When speaking at the Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama aroused my interest when she said, “Being president doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are. … At the end of the day, when it comes time to make decisions as president, all you have to guide you are your values and vision and the life experiences that make you who you are.”
That really spoke to me. I am who I am because of my heritage. The stories of my ancestors passed through generations reveal who I have come to be. I still have the newspaper clipping when my 84-year-old great-grandmother was interviewed in the local newspaper when we entered World War II. Great-grandma, who lost a son in WWI, said she would sacrifice her only grandson — my father — to preserve our way of life. We have had family members fight in every war since the Revolution. This makes me who I am, and I grew up believing that America is an exceptional nation.
You probably have similar stories and memories. What are Barack Obama’s stories and life experiences? He was raised by a single mother and his grandparents. How did they and his ancestors influence his life? Thanks to our national press, we know very little about the president’s formative years.
Barack Obama referred to his mother as “the dominant figure in my formative years.” He said, “The values she taught me continue to be my touchstone when it comes to how I go about the world of politics.”
Obama’s grandparents, Stanley and Madelyn Dunham, moved to Kansas from Hawaii after the Pearl Harbor attack, and their daughter was born there in 1942. Her father named her Stanley Ann. He then enlisted in the Army, and after the war, the family moved to Texas, California and Washington state. A new school opened on Mercer Island, a suburb of Seattle, and the Dunhams made certain they lived where Stanley Ann could attend the Mercer Island School.
According to a story in the Seattle Times, John Stenhouse, chairman of the Mercer Island School Board, was summoned to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1955. In his testimony, he admitted, “I was a member of the Communist Party,” and said there were other teachers who had Marxist leanings at the school. Teacher Jim Wichterman said Stanley Ann questioned everything — what’s so good about democracy? What’s so good about capitalism? What’s wrong with communism?
The Dunhams decided to join the East Shore Unitarian Church. Some locals are reported to have called it the “Little Red Church on the Hill.” Marxist Theology similar to the Liberation Theology taught by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. was espoused there. If young Barack was taught this theology by his mother and grandparents, it is no wonder that the Trinity United Church of Christ felt so comfortable to Obama.
After Stanley Ann’s graduation in 1960, the Dunhams moved back to Hawaii, and Stanley Ann entered the University of Hawaii where she met Barack Obama Sr. Dunham and Obama were married Feb. 2, 1961, and Barack Obama Jr. was born Aug. 4, 1961.
Barack Obama Sr. had left behind a pregnant wife and infant son in Kenya. He eventually told Stanley Ann about his other marriage but claimed he was divorced. His Kenyan wife, Kezia, later said she granted the consent for the additional marriage. Barack Sr. graduated in 1962 and went on to Harvard. Stanley Ann filed for divorce in 1964. She fostered a great story about the absent father, and Barack Jr. held his missing father in high regard.
Stanley Ann met and married Lolo Soetoro in 1965. After she received her B.A. in 1967, she moved with her 6-year-old son to Indonesia to join her husband and Barack Jr. attended school for first, second and third grade in Indonesia.
Stanley Ann sent her son back to Hawaii in 1971 to attend the private, prestigious and pricey Punahou School. Grandma Madelyn Dunham, a bank vice president, helped to pay the steep tuition. Lolo and Ann divorced in 1980. Ann was not estranged from her ex-husbands, and she encouraged her children to connect with their fathers.
I wonder, are these the life experiences that prepared Barack Jr. to be president? What was he taught about our great heritage and the American way of life? Thanks to the media, many of his experiences growing up remain hidden from us. We can continue as a free nation only by intentionally teaching our children about our heritage and American exceptionalism. That is the only way to ensure that future voters are not duped by politicians who try to impress them with outlandish theories of government that are alien to the American way of life.
Willee Cooper is a former teacher and military spouse. A Hopkinsville resident, she is past president of the Kentucky Federation of Republican Women. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.