Arts, Culture & Media

Obama, the Elder

SJ describes Obama Sr. as a flawed character who was determined to create change in Africa: his enthusiasm for Africa was infectious, and he was a huge dreamer, if overbearing and annoying at times. For these young men and women, coming to the U.S. to be able to study was an extraordinary opportunity. (This was the beginning for Kenya and for Obama Sr. too. What did he do with what was granted to him here in the U.S.?) 81 young men and women were picked out of a nation, put on a plane and sent to the U.S. to be groomed. The leader of Kenya at the time was an independence leader and was very clever and he managed to pull together some money for the first airlift. (And Obama Sr. was a protege of this leader.) Exactly, and he went to the University of Hawaii and did exceptionally well and graduated rather quickly with honors and managed to get himself scholars to Harvard and New York University. He went to Harvard and left his son and wife in Hawaii. (That was not the first family he had left behind but it wasn't unusual to have multiple wives in Africa.) Yes that's correct. (What happened after he left Harvard?) Barack Sr. had an extraordinary fall and he went back to Kenya and got a good job in the Dept. of Treasure. Obama, Sr. being himself, he could not keep his mouth shut of what he thought of the new government and then a fateful day came which changed his life. He saw his old friend, the former leader, walk into a drug store and they stopped and talked for a while and the leader is shot twice soon after. This was the beginning of the end for Obama Sr., who testified in the trial of his killer and that put him at odds with the new president. (Why did he decide to testify?) He was requested to testify, but also his mentor had fallen and he was already starting to fall so he did the right and brave thing. (What did it cost him?) He lost his job, his passport was suspended, he was put on the outs. He himself apparently believed he had been identified for death, and said he had been threatened with death by the supporters of the new president. He then started to drink quite heavily. He drove and drank and had many crashes. (One of which took his life. So how much of this has been documented in Barack Obama Jr's books about his father?) That book is a direct appraisal of his father but also a limited one. He says he's a complicated and flawed but also brilliant and successful person. It does not go near the assassination. Obama Jr. was left by his father when he was 1 and didn't see his father again until he was 10, although they did exchange many letters.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

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