Barack Obama with his grandfather, mother, and half sister
(thanks to Wikipedia for this image)
He was born in Hawaii in 1961, the son of university students; his mother was from Kansas, and his father was from Kenya. His parents were married at the time of his birth, but soon afterwards the mother and her child shifted to Seattle for her to further her studies at university. His father moved to other side of North American to attend Harvard, then Barack and his mother moved back to the Hawaii. A year later his mother and father were divorced.
His mother subsequently met and married a student from Indonesia. When her new husband returned home, she stayed in Hawaii to finish her degree before joining him a year and a half later in Jakarta.
Barack was then six years old. He went to a Catholic school in Jakarta, later shifting to state school.
In 1970 Barack visited his grandparents in Hawaii, and his mother organised an interview at a prestigious Honolulu private school. He returned a year later to start at that school and live with his grandparents.
Also in 1971 his father visited from Kenya. He was to die in a car crash eleven years later, apart from when Barack was a baby, Barrack was never again to have face to face contact with his father.
Barack’s mother returned to Hawaii minus her Indonesian husband but with a new half sister for Barack. For three years they lived as a family while Barrack’s mother completed an MA at the University of Hawaii.
At the age of thirteen, rather than go to Indonesia with his mother and half sister, Barack decided to remain with his grandparents in Hawaii and continue at his school.
It was an upbringing that could well have created insecurity, anger, self pity and antisocial behaviour. Indeed in his book ‘Dreams from My Father’ he writes about his struggles to reconcile social perceptions of his multiracial parentage. He wrote that he used alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine to “push questions of who I was out of my mind”. He wrote also “I’d arrived at an unspoken pact with my grandparents: I could live with them and they’d leave me alone so long as I kept my trouble out of sight”.
He was a youth at risk, but emerged from years of turmoil on a positive trajectory. He wrote “The opportunity that Hawaii offered - to experience a variety of cultures in a climate of mutual respect – became an integral part of my world view, and a basis for the values that I hold most dear”.
Upon graduating, Obama moved to Los Angeles to attend Occidental College. It was at Occidental that he made his first public speech; a plea for the college to divest itself from apartheid South Africa. After two years at Occidental he travelled to Indonesia to visit his mother and half sister. He also went to India and Pakistan to see friends from college. The following autumn he started at Columbia University in New York, and graduated two years later with a BA in political science, majoring in international relations.
Obama worked for a further two years in New York before taking up a position as director of a church based organisation providing job training, and ‘preparations for college’ programs, in a low income part of Chicago. During his three years in this job he also facilitated the creation of a tenant’s rights organisation at a large residential development.
In the summer of 1988 he travelled to Europe then five weeks in Kenya, where he met many of his relatives.
Five years after leaving Columbia University, he resumed studying; this time at the Harvard Law School. He saw a law degree as a vehicle to facilitate better community organisation and activism. In his own words “The idea was not only to get people to learn how to hope and dream about different possibilities, but to know how the tax structure affects what kind of housing get built where”.
In his second year he was elected president of the Harvard Law Review, which meant he became editor-in-chief supervising a staff of 80. He was the first black man to hold this position. It was big news and led to his being offered a contract to write a book about race relations.
The University of Chicago Law School lured him to their faculty partially with an offer of a fellowship and an office where he could work on his book.
During 1992 he was the Illinois director of ‘Project Vote’, a voter registration drive, officially nonpartisan, with a goal of achieving 400,000 African American voters in the state. Election of the first black woman to the Illinois senate was due to the success of that program.
Though not part of his brief, he made fundraising a part of his job, and according to the founder of Project Vote “he raised more money than any of our state directors had ever done. He did a great job of enlisting a broad spectrum of organisations and people, including many who did not get along well with one another.”
His fundraising also brought him into contact with the wealthy, liberal elite of Chicago, some of whom became supporters in his future political career.
Also in 1992 he married Michelle. The couple travelled to Bali where he spent several months working on his book. The book was taking a lot longer than he anticipated and had morphed into a personal memoir.
In the years immediately prior to his appearance as a potential president, Obama taught constitutional law and served either as chairman or as a director for a number of foundations all concerned with redressing inequities. Also he was a practicing lawyer with a firm specialising in civil rights litigation and neighbourhood economic development.
That a man so interested in the wellbeing of others, and an intellectual tour-de-force should also be an outstanding orator is an extraordinary alignment of talents.
As president of the United States, Barack Obama continued as before. Against strong opposition he pushed through the Affordable Care Act, which has come a long way towards delivering health care with accessibility close to the standard of other developed countries. Also he has said things that other presidents, would not dare. He has said sensible and true things like Israel should return to the boundaries that existed prior to the 1967 Palestinian land grab. He has taken American from having complete disregard for the impact of fossil fuels on global warming to leadership in developing sustainable energy. He has always taken a global view.
In the final days of his presidency at a time when nations are turning in on themselves he continues to try and revive the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership). Many New Zealanders are against the TPP because they believe it may impinge on our sovereignty. There is however a bigger issue at stake. The TPP would engender interdependency between South East Asian countries and western nations like the US, Australia and New Zealand. In it’s absence, China is ready to step in and make her neighbours dependant on her and therefore impotent in repelling her. Then, short of a military show down, there will be nothing to check China’s extravagant claims on the waters of the South China Sea.
In 1947 the American congress saw fit to pass the twenty second amendment which limited presidents to two terms. That is why the presidency of Barrack Obama must end in November. America does, however, have another position very close to the top. That is Secretary of State.
When Obama became president in 2009 he surprised Hillary by giving her that job. She owes him. I hope, pray and expect that should she win they will simply swap places. Should she lose; God help us.
Sep 30, 2016 • Peter Owen