Six years after he was first elected President of the United States, Barack Obama remains something of an enigma to the public he presides over.
Ironically, this isn’t due to the President being particularly reticent about himself. After all, judging from his two books, the subject Obama finds most enthralling is Obama. For example, Obama’s 2012 eulogy for Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), the Japanese-American war hero, used 48 first person pronouns or adjectives (such as “I,” “me,” or “my”) to recount how the young Obama had noticed Inouye on TV.
Understandably, Obama hasn’t been in any hurry to answer his political opponents’ questions, toying with them for years over his birth certificate. Meanwhile, few of his supporters have felt much urge to ask him the detailed questions about his background that he’d probably love to expound upon at length. As Obama has explained, being a “blank screen” upon which voters can project their political fantasies has its advantages.
One reason for this obscurity is that aspects of Obama’s personal background are genuinely exotic to almost all Americans, which limits the quality of questions. For example, Obama’s Indonesian connections – as a child he lived in Jakarta from 1967-1971, shortly after the notorious massacre of Communists and Chinese; then in the 1980s Obama came fairly close to marrying a wealthy Australian woman with striking family ties to the highest circles of power in Indonesia—are perplexing to even the best-informed Americans.
Indonesia is an immense country (current population: a quarter of a billion), but it’s culturally remote from America. For instance, there are almost no prominent Indonesian-Americans (the Van Halen brothers, who are one-quarter Indonesian, may come closest). Movies about Indonesian history well-known in the West are limited to two curious ones about the downfall of the leftist ruler Sukarno in 1965 and the subsequent slaughter of Communists: The Year of Living Dangerously and last year’s documentary The Act of Killing.
Democrats, even Obama, don’t find Indonesians terribly interesting. It’s impossible to imagine Obama achieving anything in Democratic politics if he had not suddenly switched in the mid-1980s from what his friends called an “international” or “multicultural” identity to being Our First Black President.
And Republicans have generally found Indonesia a frustrating dead end in tying Obama to Islam or Communism. For example, the President’s stepfather, Lolo Soetoro, child of a wealthy Indonesian family, eventually died of liver failure at age 52, which doesn’t suggest he was terribly devout about abstaining from alcohol.