Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Conservative Reads Obama

I'm a conservative - a traditionalist - and so my political philosophy does not coincide with President Obama's.  But it never hurts to know something about the background of the man in the White House no matter who he is.

Most presidents write about themselves after they've left office.  Obama wrote of himself before taking office, giving us an opportunity to learn about his background early on. 

I was surprised at the size of Dreams From My Father - 400+ pages - since Obama was only in his thirties when he wrote it.  But I like thick books so I ploughed in.  It's well written and interesting, reading like a novel.

Shortly after Obama was born, his black Kenyan father had to choose between two college scholarships.  One was to Harvard, and one to another prestigious university.  The non-Harvard scholarship not only paid tuition, but would have paid living expenses for the family of three.  The Harvard scholarship only paid tuition.  Obama's white American mother was in favor of the one that paid living expenses as well as tuition.  As I read this, I sympathized with her.  That would seem to be the sensible choice for a family man.  But Obama's father told her he couldn't pass up a Harvard education, and so he abandoned her and the infant Barack so he could pursue this education without being burdened with a family.

Obama's early childhood was spent in Indonesia with his mother and Indonesian stepfather - she had remarried by this time.  The stepfather's religion was a mixture of Islam and local religious superstitution.  Eventually the marriage failed, and Obama, his mother, and his baby half-sister returned to Hawaii where Obama's maternal grandparents lived.

By this time Obama was ten or twelve years old.  His white grandfather sometimes took him along on visits to his favorite barroom that had pornographic posters on the wall and was frequented by pimps and prostitutes.  According to Obama, his grandfather was usually the only white man in the bar.

Obama's mother was a hard worker and - to her credit - did everything in her power to see that he got a good education.  I don't think she ever stopped loving Obama's father in spite of the fact that he had abandoned her and their baby.  She built him up to be a hero to the young Barack.

Obama's college days were spent in the company of "politically active blacks, foreign students, Chicanos, Marxist professors, structural feminists, and punk rock performance poets."  Socialism and black liberation theology were significant influences.  Since my knowledge of black liberation theology was scanty, I decided to do some research.  According to James Cone, a prominent black liberation theologian, this belief system includes - among other things - the belief that white people owe black people a lot; and if they (white people) want redemption, they must make material restitution.  This is a far cry from traditional Christianity.

Although Obama's community organizing in Chicago produced some small victories for the black community, I got the impression that the black communities in Chicago weren't much different after Obama left than they were before he arrived.  The people he dealt with while he was there were interesting.  They ranged from hard-working blacks with moderate views to radical black nationalists.  They all spent a lot of time discussing "black self-hatred," the unjust past, and their inability to move beyond it.  The idea that the answers to their problems lie in black unity seemed to prevail.  One of Obama's associates - a black teacher who led a mentorship program in Chicago's public schools said, "I teach them that Africans are a communal people."

Obama tells about his close friendship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, a black liberation theologian; and he (Obama) praises the Black Value System that Rev. Wright's church adopted.  This value system is described as "articles of faith no less than belief in the Resurrection."

Obama traveled to Kenya and spent time getting to know his father's family.  His father is dead by this time.  His older sister, Auma, fills him in on the family history.  I thought this was the most interesting part of the book, and I found myself really liking some of Obama's Kenyan relatives.

Dreams From My Father was well worth reading.  It explains the development of Obama's collectivist, socialist views.  In light of the information he gives in this book, it is understandable that he wants to fundamentally transform America into a country that differs substantially from its roots of individual and personal liberty. 

1 comment:

Jerry said...

A very nice review.