Thy brother's keeper?

As America has gotten to know Barack Obama many have noted his apparent disconnection from many fundamental elements of his own life.  In describing his life experiences one analysis concluded he is "in" them, but not "of" them.  In other words, he has never been immersed in life -- never thrown himself full bore into anything, but, rather, has been fulfilling steps in a larger quest. 

In his stint on the faculty the University of Chicago, among the most intellectually rigorous of schools, he published not one single piece of scholarly work.  As a State Senator in Springfield, he hung out with the movers and shakers, but formed no real personal alliances or friendships.  He played in the most exclusive poker game in town, but never seemed to win or lose, as he rarely took risks or invested himself in the game, just as he never threw himself emotionally into his work.

We are coming to know a man whose life has been calculated, focused and driven toward goals, always moving forward and without room for error or encumbrance.  His history is replete with individuals who served various purposes and who could be jettisoned as circumstances warranted. Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers, Alice Palmer, Tony Rezko, Michael Pfleger, all to varying degrees, served the advancement of Barack Obama, and all have been denounced or denied.  Even the woman who raised him served as his foil when he used his grandmother as the prototype for everyday white racism.

The European press has now introduced us to a new character in this morality play.  Someone you are apparently not going to meet in the American press.  The Italian edition of Vanity Fair (no right wing journal) tracked down Obama's half brother, George Obama, living in penury in the kind of third world slum that only the smallest fraction of Americans have ever experienced.

George Obama seems not a remarkable man.  He is destitute in a relatively destitute country.  He is simply one of the hundreds of millions of humans who wallow in abject poverty their entire lives

But this is not about George.  He is not running for president.  He is trying to find his next square meal. This is another instance where the circumstances of Barack Obama's life present us with a fundamental question that must be asked.  What kind of man is this who wants government to care for everyone but who ignores his own flesh and blood living a life of near-complete despair?

Sen. Obama acknowledges his half-brother in his book "Dreams from My Father," describing their first meeting.  He made time for a brief get together with George on his widely publicized tour of Africa leading up to his presidential run.  But when his campaign was asked about the story, there was no comment whatsoever.  As with many others, when the narrative about his African roots helped to establish a compelling back story to propel him to notoriety, his half-brother played a role.  Now that he needs the votes of millions of Americans who do not consider his roots compelling or of particular appeal, he seems to want George to keep quite in his Nairobi shack.  But if anyone on the planet seems in need of both hope and change, it is George Obama.

One thing that Democrats time and again refuse to accept is that character matters to many voters. And again, Democrats will nominate a candidate that has not clearly established the level of character that Americans want in a president.  Simply put, for many Americans, the issues that animate partisans just don't matter.  On a day to day basis, they don't care much about Medicaid, South Ossetia, NAFTA, or the tax rate for capital gains.  Maybe they should, but they don't.  What they do care about, is that the person in charge appears to them to be a fundamentally solid leader who embodies certain core values, no matter what continent those values spring from.

And there is something very disquieting about a man who has risen from humble origins and achieved enormous financial and social success, ignoring the plight of his kin.  Obama cannot pretend he was unable to help his half brother.  Not only had he seen him recently, he has all the resources of a United States senator at his disposal.  He could have easily found George and, with a modest investment from his considerable salary, not to mention the millions he made capitalizing on his African roots, helped him escape his circumstances.

Now, perhaps he tried to do just that.  And perhaps he didn't want to tell anyone about it.  And perhaps George is an ingrate and didn't tell the Vanity Fair reporter that part of the story. And perhaps George has problems that we do not know of that complicate the matter.  And perhaps the Obama campaign is not saying anything out of respect for George's privacy. 

What appears much more likely is that George just isn't that important to his half brother and, unless he becomes an issue in the campaign, will be ignored.  Oddly enough, we see a contrasting experience with his opponent.  On a charity mission to Bangladesh over a decade ago, Cindy McCain came across a small child living in similar poverty with the added burden of birth defects.  And while Mrs. McCain's financial resources dwarf those of the merely affluent Obama's, she was under no obligation to do anything other than smile at this child and fulfill the Senate wife's photo op.  Cindy's reaction was to bring the little girl home where she and her husband adopted her.  Bridget McCain is the Senator's youngest child -- one life saved out of a pure act of human charity.

And after the story of George Obama was first printed in Italy, the British press picked up on it.  It was most prominently posted on Drudge, but thus far ABC, Newsweek, CNN the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune have virtually ignored the story.  The Chicago Sun-Times made it its front page story, but that clearly appears to be the outlier.  Finding a presidential candidate's acknowledged half brother living in a remote African slum is not an everyday story.  What this is, however, is a story that clearly raises disturbing questions about Obama as a man.  And it is all too apparent that many in the press want no part of those questions.

It is sad that anyone lives like George Obama.  It is a particularly intractable problem that such poverty disproportionately impacts the African continent.  We generally don't like to pass judgment on other families, not wishing judgment passed on our own.  But beyond those factors, this issue and whether or how the Senator deals with it will tell us much about this man who wants our complete trust.  As the Senator asks us to expand government to battle poverty and homelessness he declines the role of his own brother's keeper. 

Just as the relationship between Rudy Giuliani and his adult children was seized upon as an example of his flawed character, this too deserves consideration by the American people.  But if the media continues to march in near lock step to maintain the Obama mystique, this issue may not see the light of day.

Douglas O'Brien is a public affairs consultant in Chicago who served in the Bush Administration and as a senior  Congressional aide.