In Which Senator Obama Comes From Hard Stock

Don’t hate the player, hate the game. The worship of the one known as Obama is chronic. His tee-shirts look like images of Che Guevara. His nascent cult is a group of highly educated doofuses. And yet this character retains a postmodern charm, by which of course we mean the kind of brutishness we recognize in ourselves. Meet the next president of the United States, ex-smoker Barack Hussein Obama.


‘Hers Was A Mind In Full Tilt’

Obama’s mom was a wild one

by Alex Carnevale

Now that the American people have sued the Clintons for divorce, we will be dealing with a new first family of the Democratic Party. I have already made my feelings about Michelle Obama known here. She is a goddess and a thinspiration to us all.

While Obama is still an old guy, he had a young mom. Born in 1942, Stanley Ann Dunham died of ovarian cancer in 1995. Obama’s dad is also no longer with us, and while Barack’s grandmother is still alive, and he has many half-brothers and sisters, the only referent we have for who Barack’s mom is are the accounts of those who knew his mother and father.


The Chicago Tribune and Vanity Fair provide the relevant details, but I cut the articles to shreds and merged them. You may post your lawsuits as comments on this page. Feel free to go back to the originals for more entertainment.

Chip Wall can’t help but zero in on the little stuff whenever he watches Barack Obama on TV.

The turn of the smile, the sharp wit, the comfortable self-assuredness, all of which he saw up close, a half-century ago.

It’s his old pal Stanley.

For Wall and a few dozen others, Obama on the campaign trail often brings to mind Stanley Ann Dunham, Obama’s mother and a strong-willed, unconventional member of the Mercer Island High School graduating class of 1960.

“She was not a standard-issue girl of her times. … She wasn’t part of the matched-sweater-set crowd,” said Wall, a classmate and retired philosophy teacher who used to make after-school runs to Seattle with Dunham to sit and talk – for hours and hours – in coffee shops.

“She touted herself as an atheist, and it was something she’d read about and could argue,” said Maxine Box, who was Dunham’s best friend in high school. “She was always challenging and arguing and comparing. She was already thinking about things that the rest of us hadn’t.”

Hillary, McCain and Barack both come from far less serious religious backgrounds, and there is no way any of them actually believe in the power of prayer.

The education of Obama the would-be politician didn’t begin, of course, until after his birth in 1961, in Honolulu. But the parental traits that would mold him – a contrarian worldview, an initial rejection of organized religion, a questioning nature – were already taking shape years earlier in the nomadic and sometimes tempestuous Dunham family, where the only child was a curious and precocious daughter of a father who wanted a boy so badly that he named her Stanley – after himself.

It’s an amazing story when a woman who was a loner and something of a outcast can do something as important as give birth to the President of the United States. That’s why it is so lucky to be a woman. Well that, and suffrage.

Her parents, Stanley and Madelyn Dunham – he was a boisterous, itinerant furniture salesman in downtown Seattle, she worked for a bank and was the quiet yet firm influence at home – moved to Mercer Island in 1956, after one year in a Seattle apartment. The lure was the high school that had just opened and the opportunity it offered for their daughter, who was then 13.

But interviews with their friends from Kansas, now in their mid-to-late 80s, and interviews with their daughter’s former classmates and teachers, now in their mid-60s or older, paint a vivid portrait of Barack Obama’s mother as a self-assured, iconoclastic young teen seemingly hell-bent to resist Eisenhower-era conformity.


Boyish-looking, Stanley Ann was prone to rolling her eyes when she heard something she didn’t agree with. She didn’t like her nose, she worried about her weight, she complained about her parents – especially her domineering father. Her sarcasm could be withering and, while she enjoyed arguing, she did not like to draw attention to herself. The bite of her wit was leavened by a good sense of humor.

She sounds like a real iconoclast. Essentially, Stanley Ann Dunham was every single woman who lives in the tri-state area if they traveled back in time and hooked up with a Kenyan.

While her girlfriends, including Box, regularly baby-sat, Stanley Ann showed no interest. “She felt she didn’t need to date or marry or have children,” Box recalled. “It wasn’t a put-down, it wasn’t hurtful. That’s just who she was.”

Oh. I didn’t realize all girls said that.

“I Hope You’re Happy Now” – Elvis Costello (mp3)


it’s scary to look at these white obamas. very scary

The idea of being not exactly what your parents wanted is a universal feeling, and considering the involvement of Barack’s father in his life, it’s an important part of our president-to-be. Barack’s mother experienced similar disappointment.

Her name was something to tolerate – barely. Elaine Johnson, who used to wait for the school bus with her, picked up on that when Dunham introduced herself one morning.

“I know, it’s a boy’s name. And no, I don’t like it. I mean, would you like to be called Stanley?” Johnson recalled her saying. “But my dad wanted a boy and he got me. And the name ‘Stanley’ made him feel better, I guess.”


big stanley dunhama, ann & the kids

I include the following passage not because it needlessly makes reference to handling Baby Barack’s shit, but because it presents a time in place in history that will never be revisited.

Susan Blake, a classmate and former city councilwoman from Mercer Island who long ago changed the infant Barack’s messy diaper, said of her friend: “Hers was a mind in full tilt.”

In a recent interview, Obama called his mother “the dominant figure in my formative years. . . . The values she taught me continue to be my touchstone when it comes to how I go about the world of politics.”

At Mercer High School, two teachers — Val Foubert and Jim Wichterman — generated regular parental thunderstorms by teaching their students to challenge societal norms and question all manner of authority. Foubert, who died recently, taught English. His texts were cutting edge: Atlas Shrugged, The Organization Man, The Hidden Persuaders, 1984 and the acerbic writings of H.L. Mencken.


Wichterman taught philosophy. The hallway between the two classes was known as “anarchy alley,” and students pondered the challenging notions of Wichterman’s teachings, including such philosophers as Sartre and Kierkegaard. He also touched the societal third rail of the 1950s: He questioned the existence of God. And he didn’t stop there.

“I had them read ‘The Communist Manifesto,’ and the parents went nuts,” said Wichterman, adding that parents also didn’t want any discussions about “anything to do with sex,” religion and theology. The parental protests were known as “mothers’ marches.”


babies for obama

Their high school class was an in-between generation. The Beat generation had passed, and the 1960s era of protest was yet to begin. Classmates of Dunham – Wall, Blake, Hunt – felt they were on the cusp of societal change, the distant early warning of the ’60s struggles over civil rights, women’s rights and war.

“If you were concerned about something going wrong in the world, Stanley would know about it first,” said Chip Wall, who described her as “a fellow traveler. . . . We were liberals before we knew what liberals were.”

One classmate, Jill Burton-Dascher, said Stanley Ann “was intellectually way more mature than we were and a little bit ahead of her time, in an off-center way.”


is barry actually a character from the TV show The White Shadow?

“Versions of Violence” – Alanis Morrisette (mp3)

What are liberals? What kind of liberal is Barack? Does he actually differ from past politicians in any conceivable way? Could the life experiences of his birth mother and father have affected him positively? These are questions we must pose.

Is America on the cusp of societal change? My guess would be not really. Hell, Barry doesn’t even support gay marriage. The guy who runs his campaign is Dick Gephardt’s poolboy. Change is a buzzword. What might a President Obama really accomplish, and what coming-together (intercourse) was he borne out of?

The man Stanley Ann Dunham fell in love with was a Kenyan grad student, meeting with the fate of so many of our finest women.

Stanley Ann began classes at the University of Hawaii in 1960, and shortly after that, Box received a letter saying that her friend had fallen in love with a grad student. He was black, from Kenya and named Obama.

About that same time, another letter crossed the Pacific, this one heading to Africa. It was from Barack Obama Sr. to his mother, Sarah Hussein Onyango Obama. Though the letter didn’t go into great detail, it said he had met a young woman named Ann (not Stanley). There wasn’t much on how they met or what the attraction was, but he announced their plans to wed.

The Dunhams weren’t happy. Stanley Ann’s prospective father-in-law was furious. He wrote the Dunhams “this long, nasty letter saying that he didn’t approve of the marriage,” Obama recounted his mother telling him in “Dreams.” “He didn’t want the Obama blood sullied by a white woman.”

Oh, irony. Fantastic.


Parental objections didn’t matter. For Stanley Ann, her new relationship with Barack Obama and weekend discussions seemed to be, in part, a logical extension of long coffeehouse sessions in Seattle and the teachings of Wichterman and Foubert. The forum now involved graduate students from the University of Hawaii. They spent weekends listening to jazz, drinking beer and debating politics and world affairs.

My grandparents met in a socialist club, so I guess I shouldn’t talk, but ew. Speaking of ew:

The self-assured and opinionated Obama Sr. spoke with a voice so deep that “he made James Earl Jones seem like a tenor,” said Neil Abercrombie, a Democratic congressman from Hawaii who was part of those regular gatherings.

Mr. Abercrombie later went on to marry Janet Fitch and start a clothing company.

While Obama was impatient and energized, Stanley Ann, whom Abercrombie described as “the original feminist,” was endlessly patient but quietly passionate in her arguments. She was the only woman in the group.

If you’re a grad student from another country, you obviously do whatever you have to do to knock up a U.S. citizen while you’re there. That’s freakin’ common courtesy.

“I think she was attracted to his powerful personality,” Abercrombie said, “and he was attracted to her beauty and her calmness.”

Six months after they wed, another letter arrived in Kenya, announcing the birth of Barack Hussein Obama, born Aug. 4, 1961. Despite her husband’s continued anger, Sarah Obama said in a recent interview, she “was so happy to have a grandchild in the U.S.”

“I know he loved Ann,” Abercrombie said, but “I think he didn’t want the impediment of being responsible for a family. He expected great things of himself and he was going off to achieve them.”

“The World I Know (live)” – David Cook (mp3)


The marriage failed. Stanley Ann filed for divorce in 1964 and remarried two years later, when her son was 5. The senior Obama finished his work at Harvard and returned to Kenya, where he hoped to realize his big dreams of taking a place in the Kenyan government.

Punting on your son Barack Obama has got to be one of the biggest missteps since Brian Dunkleman left American Idol.


Stanley Ann Dunham loved the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. and the music of Mahalia Jackson, and thought Harry Belafonte was, as her son remembers, “the best-looking man on the planet.”

“Penetration” – Pedro the Lion (mp3)

At 18, she met and married Barack Hussein Obama Sr., a former Kenyan goatherd and an economist-in-training who had recently become the first African student in the history of the University of Hawaii—this in 1960, a time when inter-racial marriage was still illegal in almost half the mainland states.

Thinking Harry Belafonte is handsome has to be on SWPL somewhere.


It was his mother’s presence—and not infrequent absence—that most colored his early years. She cried easily and remained an impossible romantic. (She would pull her children from bed to look at a particularly beautiful moonrise.)

The couple divorced in 1963, when their son was just 2, and Barack met his father (who ultimately claimed paternity of a total of eight children by four women before dying in a car crash at age 52, in 1983) precisely once more in his life—for a month, at Christmas, in Honolulu, when he was 10.


Obama & half sis

Ann and Barack Sr. fanfic could be entertaining. “As he put his pollen inside her dandelion, he muttered, I bet this baby won’t hold political office BWHAHAHAHA. Ann, meanwhile, was already reading a Joyce Carol Oates novel and counting her alimony money.” Something like that.

That was the end of Ann’s first marriage. There have been worse first marriages. Imagine having a bad marriage and not even having a president-elect to show for it. That’s gotta be the best bad hook-up ever.


Ann next married an Indonesian national named Lolo Soetoro. She eventually began pursuing a Ph.D. in anthropology that required frequent fieldwork in Indonesia, and Barack spent four years of his childhood there, in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Because his mother wanted Barack to have the best possible bite at the American Dream, she left him in Hawaii for much of his adolescence in the care of his maternal grandparents, Stanley and Madelyn Dunham, who fed him a poly-cultural diet of sashimi and Jell-O with grapes, and got him admission and a scholarship to the prestigious Punahou School, in Honolulu. He arrived there in fifth grade as a round-faced boy with baby fat, and left the lanky figure of today.

The sad fact of Obama’s childhood – and a motivator to keep him close to his children – is that his parents weren’t around enough for him. His new stepfather didn’t help things, from the sound of it.

Alice Dewey told me that Dunham “divorced happily” from Soetoro—who died in 1987 of complications from a liver ailment—in part because “he gradually became more and more like a Westerner and she became more and more like a Javanese.” Obama told me he could only laugh at the false press accounts that portray Soetoro as some kind of radical Muslim who had sent him to an Islamic school. “I mean, you know, his big thing was Johnny Walker Black, Andy Williams records,” Obama said. “I still remember ‘Moon River.’ He’d be playing it, sipping, and playing tennis at the country club. That was his whole thing. I think their expectations diverged fairly rapidly.”


Barry’s half-sister

It will be interesting to see if any of this becomes GOP talking points. It’s unlucky for the GOP that Barack Obama Sr. is not around today, he sounds like a terrific guy.

Her boldest step of all may have been marrying Barack’s father, a fellow undergraduate at the University of Hawaii, whom she had met in a Russian-language class. Obama has acknowledged that the precise circumstances of their marriage are a bit cloudy, even to him; it would turn out that his father was already tribally married to another woman, in Africa, and after he left Barack and his mother to pursue graduate studies at Harvard on a scholarship, he would marry and divorce another American woman, and then father a child by a second African woman.

Barack Obama’s father did write him letters from time to time, as this Washington Post article recounts. One of them said, “Like water finding its level, you will arrive at a career that suits you.” He did nail that one.


Ann Dunham kept up a fond correspondence with Barack’s father, even after her marriage to Soetoro, another foreign student, who eventually went to work for an American company, Union Oil, in Jakarta. She made sure her son knew of his father’s intellect and his government jobs in the post-colonial regime in Kenya, and of the improbable courtship the two had shared. But Obama’s father would remain a distant, intimidating, absent figure, the disappointing details of whose life and career Barack would learn about only much later. “The truth is that none of the men in my life were that successful or that stable,” Obama told me. “They made an awful lot of mistakes.”

Rectifying our parents’ mistakes is a difficult task. Since it is nearly impossible to imagine anyone short of Barack Obama Sr’s ghost himself derailing the Obama steam train at this point, we will all have to live with President Obama.


barry gets a degree

As one of my advisors put it to me, “You can’t hate Obama just because people you hate like him.” I don’t hate Obama. He’s a compelling figure. But the feeling you have for a great orator, the stirring emotions you get when you see him, have little to nothing to do with what kind of leader he might be. Concern over the election of an executive with no large amount of experience or substance in his campaign is natural. But he will be President, so I have to live with it. You must accept what you can’t change. We can only hope Barry has learned that lesson, too.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


“Today the best thing I saw was at the airport, a little girl was waiting line at customs, trailing behind her family, touching each one of the poles that are there to keep us in lines, hugging each pole and kissing each pole as she passed.” Would you like to know more?

Tess’ superb plan to become a lingerie model.

Molly got depressed about late capitalist America.

7 thoughts on “In Which Senator Obama Comes From Hard Stock

  1. I’m not American or anything so my opinion is the equivalent of dust on this, but we are obsessed with America and US politics here so it’s in our media a lot.


    I do not get the Obama love. AT ALL. And, basically, i think he’s bullshit. He’s inexperienced, he’s selling his country these “hopes” and “dreams” that he cant possibly give them. Maybe if he was some king or a dictator but my understanding of the American political system is that the president cant just do what he wants when he wants. I mean, duh.

    But. I’m not surprised most people are buying his bullshit. Americans, god love ’em, are wildly optimistic and hopeful beyond the standard that is normal. It’s all about dreams! and hopes! and success! and happiness! and all that wonderful airy fairy self help book shit.

    But … that isnt how the world works. That isnt how politics works. And i think the people who end up voting for him, who are putting their faith and trust in him so blindly, are going to be MIGHTY disappointed when he fails to deliver.

    He also seems to be this blank canvas of a man, this nice, competent dude upon whom people can project whatever they want and i feel like they make assumptions on him based on the color of his skin.

    That’s another thing. His skin color. I mean, i get that white America feels bad and all about the way blacks have been treated in the past and i think their blind cheering on for him stems from that guilt. But he’s not really … black, is he? I mean, white mother, absent black father, raised by white grandparents, in a multicultural community? That’s a far cry from being, say, brought up in the deep south to two proud african-american parents or growing up in some inner city ghetto slum. I guess what i’m saying is that, shit, people are acting so unconsciously racist by forgetting or overlooking his whiteness that it’s kind of gross. oooh first black president! yipidy doo daa! well shouldnt it be based on something a bit more meaningful than that?

    ideally hillary should get this, then after some experience obama can take the reins. sometimes the devil you know is better.

    i’d laugh so hard if mccain won though. so fucking hard.

    lastly. I LOVE THIS BLOG! /end shitarse long comment.

  2. Jessica you are a moron, please die. Being black isn’t defined by being brought up “in some inner city ghetto slum.”

  3. Yeah, because no black person was EVER brought up in one. Ever. Not that there’s anything wrong with it.

    Seriously. You fuck off and die. What? Is it easier to deny the fact that a lot of black people (who are relying and putting their faith in Obama) are forced for whatever reason to live in low-cost shitty housing slums and pretend they’re all prosperous and have no problems. Truth is he can’t relate to a lot of the people who are looking at him like he’s the next big hope anymore than Hilary can given that he had a peachy (by the sounds of it) middle class WHITE unbringing.

  4. Jessica, you’re an idiot. There are many successful, independently wealthy black americans in the US. And by the way, cursing makes you sound like an uneducated idiot.

  5. Hi…I’m totally uneducated and a complete idiot. So, can you all just slooooooww down a bit with all this high falutin debatin’. I just can’t keep up.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s