PRUDEN: The Third World and Obama

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OPINION/ANALYSIS:

Now that every nut in America is equipped with a laptop computer, you’re likely to run afoul of a nut on the loose almost anywhere.

I observed in this space earlier this week that Barack Obama’s curious compulsion to travel the world to make endless apologies for America could stem from his spending the most formative years of his childhood in the Third World. I mentioned two observable facts, neither in any way accusatory or rude, that his father was a Kenyan (Marxist) and the mother who raised him was obviously attracted to men of the Third World. She married two of them.

These observations, and how that might have influenced a child, struck several readers - I’ve heard from them all - as unforgivable xenophobia, arrogance and, of course, the mindless all-purpose indictment, “racism.” My observation that the president’s mother was attracted to the Third World was, incredibly, taken as insult, as if being attracted to “men of the Third World” is bad. But bigotry, like beauty, lies often in the eye of the beholder, or in this case in the eye of the accuser. Most of the e-mails were crude, obscene and, worse, cast in the language of the schoolyard. Some included the obligatory shot at George W. Bush. With friends like these the president needs no enemies.

Mr. Obama himself writes about his birthright at length in his memoir, “Dreams From My Father” — one of the best memoirs from any of our presidents. Since every one of us is the extension of our life’s experiences, I observed that the impressions of his childhood could explain the president’s obsession with making apologies and amends for his country’s sins and shortcomings, perceived and otherwise.

No president before him, Democrat, Republican or Whig, had felt such compulsion to tug at his forelock. But these are familiar complaints heard in the Third World. When I lived and worked there years ago, I heard them often. Everything America does is suspect, usually meant to wound and humiliate, even its good-hearted attempts to do good. Such complaints are usually driven by resentment, covetousness and even malice. A child growing up in such an atmosphere inevitably absorbs a distorted image of his native land, missing something of his birthright.

The president writes with a certain wistfulness of remembering an old family photograph on a bookshelf, rendering in sepia his Scots-English grandparents, “the faces of American Gothic, the WASP bloodlines’ poorer cousins.” He recalls the family lore that a great-great-grandmother was rumored to have been a second cousin of Jefferson Davis. (What will the semi-literate nuts on the looney left make of that?)

“That was the world in which my grandparents had been raised [in Kansas],” Mr. Obama writes, in “the smack-dab, land-locked center of the country, a place where decency and endurance and the pioneer spirit were joined at the hip with conformity and suspicion and the potential for unblinking cruelty.” This was the land he could never know, recalled for him by his grandparents, portraying “Depression-era America in all its innocent glory: Fourth of July parades and the picture shows on the side of a barn; fireflies in a fruit jar and the taste of vine-ripe tomatoes, sweet as apples; dust storms and hailstorms and classrooms filled with farm boys who got sewn up in their woolen underwear at the beginning of winter and stank like pigs as the months wore on.”

How could a little American boy, learning in cultural isolation in a Muslim school 10,000 miles from home, absorb anything but a strange and different culture?

“I was introduced to dog meat (tough), snake meat (tougher) and grasshopper (crunchy),” he writes. The strangeness was “one long adventure, the bounty of a boy’s life.” Such a culture has its charms and merits on its own terms; some would regard it as a better culture than our own, but it isn’t necessarily the culture to nurture a boy who would be president of the United States.

President Obama returned Thursday night from an Asian trip that will be remembered mostly for his unprecedented bow to the Japanese emperor (“he bowed so low that he was looking straight at the floor,” the Capitol Hill daily Politico described it).

There were no apologies, at least in public, this time. Few raised cheers. “On every issue - exchange rates, market access, even the terms of the broadcast of his town-hall meeting in Shanghai - the president was outmaneuvered by a Chinese government growing in confidence every day,” said Scott Paul, the executive director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing. Mr. Paul had better be careful. The laptop cops will be after him.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

About the Author
Wesley Pruden

Wesley Pruden

Editor Emeritus — American journalist legend and Vietnam War author James Wesley Pruden, Jr. is Editor Emeritus of The Washington Times. Pruden’s first job in the newspaper business dates back to 1951 as a copyboy at the now defunct Arkansas Gazette where he later became a sportswriter and an assistant state editor. In 1982, he joined The Washington Times, four ...

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