May 6, 2011
Obama's Truest KinBy Richard Kantro
The President's origins, it seems, are purposefully, even studiedly enigmatic. His forbears and family, and their formative influence upon him, are a skein of maybes; a web of shades; shadows through a scrim. The genuineness of his carefully-shaped family "narrative" seems plastic at best. The chapters don't always flow into one another so well. In trying to sift out of the factitious biographical sandpile a few grains of truth about the feigned life of a fictive man, we may just discover that he is best characterized in works of invention -- by made-up people.
If we wish to understand the forces that ultimately molded him, it is surely beyond the Kansas / Africa / Hawaii / Indonesia / Chicago nexus that we should look. For it is from far outside his multi-continental influences -- even of his biological, adoptive, and tutorial retia -- that his profoundest shaping was effected.
After all, in the constructed, managed, guarded, postmodern, putative biography of the First Shape-Shifter President, little in the details seems to bear up under real scrutiny; even less about his relatives; and least of all about him. With the President's release of the long-form, it's clear that the spectral, elusive Barack Hussein Obama, Sr. is the story he's sticking to. So we'll have to look elsewhere to find who truly crafted him. Because admittedly -- Dreams From My Father notwithstanding -- the Junior overachiever is no mere chip off Senior's flighty, philandering, wobbly, inebriated old block.
Nor does it help much to consider O-II's genealogical curiosa. You know: he is eighth cousin to Dick Cheney; tenth cousins to Sarah Palin and George W. Bush; and so on. No joke. Surely, those familial bloodlines had little influence on the fundamentals of the curious philosophy under which we are now, uh, governed. Your family tree -- if you go back far enough -- is just as likely to share a branch with these august personages as is his.
And his immediate relatives can shed no light: Mom and Dad are both dead. Gramps is dead. Dr. Sinclair is dead. Indonesian half-sister Lia is dead. Maternal grandma Madelyn Dunham (Toot) somehow managed to hang on until one day before the election. Alas, she never lived to savor the victory of -- or reveal many details about -- the grandson into whom she "poured everything." The plethora of nattering other relatives -- African half-grandparents, Indonesian step-siblings, hut-dwelling half-brothers -- is a cacophony of unenlightening contradictions.
In the end, it's no matter if Presidents 43 and 44 do in fact share a distant ancestor-in-common; or to what African country or Pacific archipelago the latter's heart belongs. His true consanguinity is much nearer to imagined figures than to any traceable flesh-and-blood family.
For example, he's the spiritual full first cousin to Putney Swope, a soak-the-rich businessman and self-proclaimed idealist, albeit plenty money-hungry. Big on sanctimony, low on class, with a fondness for Fidel, and suddenly catapulted to the top. (Sound somehow familiar?) Putney got elected Chairman of the Board because the guilty, prejudiced, cowed white hypocrites around the boardroom table -- buffoons all -- didn't want to not vote for him. They recriminate: "The man's been elected and you voted for him," says one. "We all voted for him," moans another. "Because we thought no one else would vote for him." Putney steers the ship for a while -- appointing his own kooky officers, pursuing bizarre projects -- while things get weirder and weirder. Then he alienates his worker-factions; they fracture and go at one another; he loses control; and the enterprise is wrecked.
Or how about David Hampton? Although a natural person, he led such a thorough canard of a life that it qualifies as fiction. Obama-II is little-brother-under-the-skin to this ingratiating charlatan who only worked hard at not working. He serially pretended to be many someones he was not -- Sidney Poitier's son, among others -- just to see how many doors it could open for him. It opened a lot. Numerous well-off, real-life people -- there go those guilty, moneyed, willful gulls again -- staked him, fed him, warmed to his sob story, and gave him a break and a guest bedroom. As thanks, he slummed his way into their wallets. Lots of people were taken, dismayed, and discarded. (Et tu, déjà vu?) And yet, this guy never learned; he followed his impulses straight to perdition. He undid himself; he died in prison.
Then, there's Obama's lost spiritual twin: Chauncey Gardner, the hapless cipher of Being There. Chauncey had only two commendations. (1) He looked good in a suit. (2) When he spoke, all of privileged officialdom willfully took his ineffably idiotic gibberish as luminous wisdom. They made him their tabula rasa and duly projected upon him their own ambitions, suspicions, and wiles. And anointed him their familiar, their sage, their seducer, and their oracle. (And, once again, housed him royally!) A shrewd few understood his spectacular inadequacy. Yet when the movie ended, Chauncey stood on the cusp of the Presidency. Talk about 2008 truth being not only stranger, but also more calamitous, than 1970s fiction.
But ultimately, in the unsmiling grimness of his true machinations, Obama seems most of all to be the very doppelgänger of Poe's Hop-Frog. Poor Hop-Frog, kidnapped from his unidentified native land, was court jester to the callous and wanton King and his cohorts. Dwarfish, deformed and crippled, he could only move with ungainly lurches. And the cruel, violent King incited him to smoldering, grave vengefulness. Our own would-be King, on the other hand, is surely not misshapen, at least not on the outside. Tall, fit, energetic, with that dazzling mouthful of ivories -- even though he's just a player piano of a man -- Obama is confident, unflinching, assured. His movements are smooth; his stride is graceful; his suits sit well; his psyche, maybe not so much.
With knowing verbal nods to bullied children, he intimates that, like Hop-Frog, he himself was bullied. His and others' vague references intimate abuse not forgotten. And he evinces an endless annoyance -- by his sour, disapproving pursed lips, his cadence of condescension, that endlessly wagging index finger, his insufferable self-adulation, and the incessant scolding -- at having to live among such inferiors and defectives as we are. We are a chafe upon him that he cannot salve.
And from within that uneasy psyche, Obama seems to dream of doing what Hop-Frog did. At the behest of the King and his Court, Hop-Frog prepares for them what he pretends will be the festive diversion they crave. They "elect" him, as it were. They freely give him their willing connivance and approval; they banish their better judgment; they suspend their disbelief. Hop-Frog conceals their plotted fate by hiding the deft, grim purposefulness of his planning. His unsuspecting victims are feckless, unwitting fools; they continue to play along until it is too late. Chained, hoisted, and helpless, their disbelief now suspends them. Servile no longer, mounting a hideous tableaux of consummately vicious revenge -- fully worthy of Poe at his most horrifyingly gothic -- the frothing and maddened Hop-Frog takes a torch, unleashes conflagration and fiery, consuming fury, and makes his hated victims pay. Mercy, does he make them pay.
 No joke: here's the link.
 See here how many possibilities ten generations afford one to be a scion of fame.
 Never heard of this one? Meet previously unknown half-sister Lia Soetoro.
 Quote refers to Obama's putative maternal grandmother Madelyn Dunham.
 The name's Obama -- Sarah Obama.
 Maya Soetoro-Ng.
 Good ol' George.
 Movie, Putney Swope, 1969, Robert Downey, Sr., director.
 David Hampton was the inspiration for the 1990 play by John Guare, Six Degrees of Separation.
 1971 book by Jerzy Kosinski, brilliantly filmed in 1979. Hal Ashby, director.
 Cf. the President: "I serve as a blank screen," Obama writes, "on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views." Real Clear Politics, story here.
 Hop-Frog, Edgar Allan Poe: 1849.
 "I didn't emerge unscathed," Obama tells conference on bullying; story here.
 The unpleasant poem "Pops", for one; a story in The Telegraph, for another.
Richard Kantro may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.