Obama tells us less about his mother, who was still alive at the time he wrote this book. She is missing through most of the book. Even when Obama describes his time in Indonesia when he lived briefly with his mother and her second husband, an Indonesian, the details are sketchy.
What does come across, indirectly, is Obama's sense of loss when his mother sends him back to Hawaii to live with her parents, while choosing to keep his younger half-sister with her. Obama describes his awkward reunion with his grandparents at Honolulu's airport: "suddenly, the conversation stopped. I realized that I was to live with strangers." This can't have been easy on a 10-year-old boy.
"Dreams from My Father" never directly grapples with the question of what these abandonments did to shape Obama. Instead, Obama chooses to portray himself as caught between two worlds: the white, middle class world of his mother's family and the African tribal system of his absent father. But Obama's African heritage explains almost nothing about who he is, and racism barely touches him growing up in multi-racial Hawaii.
Family history should neither be a qualification nor disqualification from becoming president. But Barack Obama's history cannot help but shape the person he is today, just as Bill Clinton's dysfunctional family shaped him.
If Sen. Obama spoke more about the troubled state of marriage and its consequences, if he acknowledged that the absence of fathers was the single most important factor in explaining persistent poverty among blacks, if he understood that the traditional family is becoming an endangered institution, perhaps he'd have something new to say to the American people.
Instead, he's chosen the safer political path. He talks about racial healing, ending partisan bickering and providing universal health care. But he ignores the single most pressing social issue of our day -- and one on which he could speak with some authority: the breakdown in family.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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