Obama's New Nationalism More Sukarno Than Teddy Roosevelt

Barack Obama's image-makers selected Osawatomie, Kansas as the location where Obama would deliver his "make or break" redistributive "New Nationalism" speech to call up memories of the iconic Teddy Roosevelt.  One hundred and one years earlier at the same site, TR delivered the original "New Nationalism" speech to a gathering of the Grand Army of the Republic, comprising Union veterans of the Civil War.  The setting was a cynical attempt to cloak Obama's un-American redistributionist philosophies in the memory of a true American hero.  TR, after all, is one of only four American Presidents memorialized at Mount Rushmore.

While it's true that TR's speech represented a sharp left turn toward an aggressive form of progressivism, numerous conservative pundits have correctly noted that the setting was nonetheless a misdirection on Obama's part.  Not only did Obama's speech set forth a far more radical redistributionist philosophy than TR ever imagined, but it also rejected the "can do" American individualism that was trademark TR even at his most progressive, replacing it with a whiny collectivism whose origins can be found far from America's shores.

Several conservative pundits have offered their own thoughts as to where these ideas originate.  Charles Krauthammer, for instance, looks to Chávez's Venezuela.  Presidential candidate Rick Santorum thinks that Obama wants to turn America into France.  A year earlier, Dinesh D'Souza looked to Kenya, the land of Obama's biological father.

All three are looking in the wrong corners of the world.  The origins of Obama's social justice rhetoric can be found in Indonesia, where he lived from ages six to ten.  It was there that Obama was formally instructed in "Pancasila" -- the Indonesian state ideology that blends Indonesian traditions of communalism and patrimony with Western notions of nationalism and "social justice."  But Obama's introduction to Indonesian culture and values came even earlier in his life.  Indeed, it is likely that his earliest memories are as part of a family headed by an Indonesian stepfather whose own family was deeply embedded in the ruling Indonesian oligarchy.

Indonesia's first president, Sukarno, introduced Pancasila in a speech in Jakarta on June 1, 1945.  His audience was a committee of the Indonesian Constitutional Convention, convened on the eve of that country's independence.  Sukarno emphasized five points around which the new country could coalesce:

  1. Belief in one supreme God
  2. Humanitarianism
  3. Nationalism
  4. Social justice
  5. Consultative democracy

Sukarno's vision was so entrancing to his fellow revolutionaries that they codified Pancasila in the new constitution, which officially declared Indonesia's independence from the Netherlands.  Both Sukarno from 1945 to 1967 and Suharto from 1967 to 1998 relied on the vagueness of Pancasila's five principles -- and especially the principle of "social justice" -- to support their own brands of autocratic governance.  Sukarno leaned towards an authoritarian communist interpretation, while Suharto presided over a corrupt, feudalist oligarchy run by political and familial cronies.

From Sukarno's 1945 speech we take these words on "social justice":

Fourth principle: social justice ... there shall be no poverty in free Indonesia[.] ... Do we want a free Indonesia whose capitalists do as they wish, or where the entire people prosper, where every man has enough to eat[?]

Sukarno's ideas on social justice were echoed in Obama's Osawatomie speech last week:

[T]hey want to go back to the same philosophies that have stacked the deck against middle-class Americans for too many years. Their philosophy is simple: we are better off when everyone is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules. Well I'm here to say they are wrong. I'm here to reaffirm my deep conviction that we are greater together than we are on our own. I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone gets their fair share, and when everyone plays by the same rules.

Obama's Osawatomie speech reflects Indonesian rather than American values in one additional important way: Americans have always valued individualism over collectivism, while Indonesians prefer collectivism over individualism.  Obama's speech was an ode to collectivism and a rejection of American individualism.

Dutch scholar Geert Hofstede has compiled a lifetime of research that confirms the stark difference in attitudes toward individualism and collectivism that exist in the United States and Indonesia.  Based on his research over the past forty years, he has developed "Hofstede's Model of Cultural Dimensions," which measures cultural differences in four dimensions, one of which is individualism versus collectivism. Years of research on personal views of individualism vs. collectivism consistently place the United States at the very top of the 67 countries Hofstede has studied, with an average score 91 out of 100 on the individualism-over-collectivism scale, while Indonesia ranks 61st, or sixth from the bottom, with an average score of 14 out of 100.

The notion that Obama's worldview has been formed more by Indonesian than American cultural values is reinforced by his own personal history.  When his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, married Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian exchange student studying at the University of Hawaii's East-West Center, in March 1965, Barack Obama was only three years and seven months old.  The family immediately set up housekeeping at 3326 Oahu Avenue, a small house about three miles north of the University of Hawaii campus, where they lived together for two years.  After a one-year separation, Stanley Ann and young Barack joined Lolo, who had moved to Jakarta, Indonesia, where they lived together for another four years.

Barack Obama's biological father -- the Kenyan Barack Obama, Sr. -- was nowhere to be seen.  Though Obama's Dreams from My Father goes to great pains to insert Obama Sr. into the story -- through the literary device of hearing stories about him from his mother -- it's clear that for six of the seven years from ages three to ten, Barack Obama had a hands-on, live-in father: the Indonesian Lolo Soetoro.

That Lolo was a well-connected young Indonesian student, firmly entrenched in the fabric of the Indonesian ruling class, is supported by several facts.

Lolo's mother was closely related to Sultan Hamenkubuwono IX, the hereditary ruler of Yogyakarta.  From 1949 until his death in1988, the sultan was a towering figure of civilian influence within first the Sukarno, and later the Suharto government. He served as the national minister of Foreign Affairs under Sukarno, and from 1973 to 1978, he was also Suharto's vice president.

Mayo Soetoro-Ng, Obama's half sister, has publicly mentioned her grandmother's "royal blood," and University of Hawaii anthropology professor Alice Dewey, Stanley Ann Dunham's close friend and thesis adviser,  told me in a phone interview last year1 that:

Lolo's mother, Ann, and Maya lived inside the royal area of Yogyokarta when I visited them in 1978-1979.  She was related to the Sultan, I think probably at the second-cousin level or maybe even the first-cousin level.  They -- Ann, her daughter Maya, and her mother-in-law-- lived in a house very near the center of that walled area, which suggested to me that she had a fairly close family relationship to the sultan.  The betang is traditionally the area reserved for the extended royal family of the Sultan Hamengkubuwono.  No one who was a foreigner without royal blood could live there.

Soetoro's familial relations to the Sultan would explain why he received a scholarship to the University of Hawaii East-West Center program.  Typically, foreign governments recommend students who have some sort of political connection.

Later, when the family was living in Indonesia in 1968, Soetoro got a job with Union Oil as a government relations specialist through the efforts of a wealthy brother-in-law employed by Petramina, the monopoly oil company owned by the Indonesian government.

It was at about this time that the Suharto government began an ambitious nationwide educational program designed to re-indoctrinate the youth of the nation into the Pancasila philosophy.  As an elementary school student in the capital city of Jakarta, young Barack Obama very likely was taught in the first of these classes2.

During his first term, Barack Obama has been remarkably successful in accomplishing his goal of transforming the United States of America from a nation based on the principles of individual liberty captured in our American Constitution to a nation based on Pancasila, with its vague promises of "social justice."

Obama signaled in his Osawatomie speech his intention to complete that transformation in his second term, thereby turning America into the kind of corrupt, crony-based oligarchy that has ruled Indonesia for more than half a century.

We have one last chance in November to turn back this transformation. It will be the most important election in American history.  Let's return to form and use some of that American "can do" attitude of rugged individualism to reject Barack Obama's Indonesian collectivism once and for all.

Michael Patrick Leahy's new book, Covenant of Liberty: The Ideological Origins of the Tea Party Movement, will be published by Broadside Books in March 2012.  His website is www.michaelpatrickleahy.com.

1 Phone interview with Alice Dewey, August 12, 2010

2 Though the full-blown nationwide Pancasila education program would not launch until 1978, public schools in the nation's capital of Jakarta, such as the one Barack Obama attended, had probably already begun to re-emphasize the principles of Pancasila in their curriculum during the 1968-1971 time period when Barack Obama was in attendance.  Brenda J. Elliot makes a similar argument in her article "Did Pancasila Shape Obama's World View?," which has now been privacy-protected.