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Dreams From His (Communist) Mother

From an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times:

Dreams From His Mother

By MICHAEL R. DOVE

August 11, 2009

New Haven

PRESIDENT OBAMA’s late mother, Ann Dunham Soetoro, was famous for the good cheer and optimism that she preserved in the face of a complex and challenging world. Her personality went hand-in-hand with her career as an anthropologist in Indonesia and Pakistan, where she studied and worked with village craftsmen, slum-dwellers and countless others. I knew Dr. Soetoro as a friend and colleague for many years before her death from cancer in 1995. Though I only met her son once, briefly at her memorial service, I’ve watched him as he’s taken on the hardest job in the world, and often found myself wondering how her worldview might have shaped him.

Dr. Soetoro’s most sustained academic effort was her 1,043-page dissertation, “Peasant Blacksmithing in Indonesia: Surviving Against All Odds,” completed in 1992 and based on 14 years of research. This was a classic, in-depth, on-the-ground anthropological study of a 1,200-year-old industry. Her principal field site was a cluster of hamlets, containing several hundred households, on an arid limestone plateau on Java’s south coast. There, village metalworkers produced dozens of different iron blades and tools for use in farming, carpentry and daily life.

When Dr. Soetoro began her study in 1977, the village could be reached only by walking a mile and a half from the nearest paved road. The first battery-powered television set did not arrive in the village until 1978, and was placed in a window and watched by the village en masse; electricity did not arrive until a decade later. In her dissertation, Dr. Soetoro called this village “a wonderful and mysterious place to live.”

Running through Dr. Soetoro’s doctoral research, as through all her work, was a challenge to popular perceptions regarding economically and politically marginalized groups; she showed that the people at society’s edges were not as different from the rest of us as is often supposed. Dr. Soetoro was also critical of the pernicious notion that the roots of poverty lie with the poor themselves and that cultural differences are responsible for the gap between less-developed countries and the industrialized West.

Indeed, Dr. Soetoro found that the villagers she studied in Central Java had many of the same economic needs, beliefs and aspirations as the most capitalist of Westerners. Village craftsmen were “keenly interested in profits,” she wrote, and entrepreneurship was “in plentiful supply in rural Indonesia,” having been “part of the traditional culture” there for a millennium.

Based on these observations, Dr. Soetoro concluded that underdevelopment in these communities resulted from a scarcity of capital, the allocation of which was a matter of politics, not culture. Antipoverty programs that ignored this reality had the potential, perversely, of exacerbating inequality because they would only reinforce the power of elites. As she wrote in her dissertation, “many government programs inadvertently foster stratification by channeling resources through village officials,” who then used the money to further strengthen their own status.

These same observations also led her to start working with institutions like the Ford Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development to devise alternate pathways for reaching and working with the poor. She helped to pioneer microcredit programs that made small amounts of capital available to weavers, blacksmiths and other low-income groups — people who would otherwise have had no access to credit.

It’s worth pointing out that though microenterprise is fairly well-known today — and Indonesia now has one of the world’s largest microcredit programs — it was pretty radical stuff when Ann Soetoro was doing her work. But then, she had a habit of swimming against the current. While many American academics tried to avoid antagonizing the repressive Suharto government, Ann Soetoro called attention to those the regime had failed to benefit: the village craftsmen, the plantation workers and urban scavengers, the underpaid workers in the shoe and clothing factories.

There is a final lesson from her work that is worth remembering: No nation — even if it is our bitterest enemy — is incomprehensible. Anthropology shows that people who seem very different from us behave according to systems of logic, and that these systems can be grasped if we approach them with the sort of patience and respect that Dr. Soetoro practiced in her work.

The anthropologist Clifford Geertz wrote that “the aim of anthropology is the enlargement of the universe of human discourse.” This was clearly a central goal of Dr. Soetoro’s work and life. From an admittedly great distance, I can see those same values in her son.

Michael R. Dove is a professor of social ecology and anthropology at Yale.

It’s pretty safe to say that Ms. Soetoro was a communist. She met Barack Hussein Obama, II, himself a communist, while studying Russian in Hawaii. (What other Americans were studying Russian in the early 1960s?)

If Indonesia just hadn’t happened to have become one of the most vehemently anti-communist countries in the world at the time that Ms. Soetoro and Barack Hussein Obama, III, travelled there with her second (?) husband, she would have undoubtedly have been working for the Com-Intern. If she was not doing so in actuality anyway. (Cf the Ford Foundation.)

There is a final lesson from her work that is worth remembering: No nation — even if it is our bitterest enemy — is incomprehensible. Anthropology shows that people who seem very different from us behave according to systems of logic, and that these systems can be grasped if we approach them with the sort of patience and respect that Dr. Soetoro practiced in her work.

Comprehending other nations, even our enemies, has never been the problem so much. It is the notion foisted by folks like Mr. Obama that ‘to understand is to forgive.’

That is not always the case. Nor should it be.

We certainly understand militant Islam. We don’t have to forgive them for their ways. The same lesson applies to the America-hating left.

Speaking of which, judging from his second autobiography, The Audacity Of Hope – Thoughts On Reclaiming The American Dream, Mr. Obama’s most proud memories of his mother seem to be those of her (albeit tempered) radicalism.

(That is, when he isn’t on the stump bragging about her having lived on food stamps while she was living in Hawaii – despite her mother being a bank Vice President – and going to college to pursue her lifelong quest for a PhD in peasant blacksmithing.)

From pp 19-20:

I’VE ALWAYS FELT a curious relationship to the sixties. In a sense, I’m a pure product of that era: As the child of a mixed marriage, my life would have been impossible, my opportunities entirely foreclosed, without the social upheavals that were then taking place. But I was too young at the time to fully grasp the nature of those changes, too removed—living as I did in Hawaii and Indonesia—to see the fallout on America’s psyche. Much of what I absorbed from the sixties was filtered through my mother, who to the end of her life would proudly proclaim herself an unreconstructed liberal. The civil rights movement, in particular, inspired her reverence; whenever the opportunity presented itself, she would drill into me the values that she saw there: tolerance, equality, standing up for the disadvantaged.

In many ways, though, my mother’s understanding of the sixties was limited, both by distance (she had left the mainland of the United States in 1960) and by her incorrigible, sweet-natured romanticism. Intellectually she might have tried to understand Black Power or SDS or those women friends of hers who had stopped shaving their legs, but the anger, the oppositional spirit, just wasn’t in her. Emotionally her liberalism would always remain of a decidedly pre-1967 vintage, her heart a time capsule filled with images of the space program, the Peace Corps and Freedom Rides, Mahalia Jackson and Joan Baez.

Alas, the coconut didn’t fall too far from the tree.

Except Mr. Obama is not "limited" by the lack of anger, however much it is invented for convenience and authenticity.

The anthropologist Clifford Geertz wrote that “the aim of anthropology is the enlargement of the universe of human discourse.” This was clearly a central goal of Dr. Soetoro’s work and life. From an admittedly great distance, I can see those same values in her son.

Yes, but as recent events have shown, Mr. Obama is only interested in “human discourse” with those who already agree with him completely.

If you don’t, you are consigned to the ‘angry mob.’

(Thanks to Eage334th for the heads up.)

This article was posted by Steve on Thursday, August 13th, 2009. Comments are currently closed.

10 Responses to “Dreams From His (Communist) Mother”

  1. canary says:

    Washington high school teachers she read the Communist Manfesto, and simular books. She despaired over her son’s lack of social conscience.Both like union laborers and powerful people too.
    America was good for their taking though. She came back to America for her health care treatment too.

    The Story of Barack Obama’s Mother. June 11, 2009
    With reporting by Zamira Loebis and Jason Tedjasukmana/Jakarta

    “She despaired of him ever having a social conscience,” remembers Richard Patten, a colleague.

    Her home became a gathering spot for the powerful and the marginalized: politicians, filmmakers, musicians and labor organizers. “She had, compared with other foundation colleagues, a much more eclectic circle,” Zurbuchen says.
    http://www.usabarackobama.blogspot.com/2009/06/story-of-barack-obamas-mother.html

  2. proreason says:

    “her incorrigible, sweet-natured romanticism”

    Is that the same sweet-natured romanticism that has destroyed the nuclear family for Black Americans?

    The same sweet-natured romanticism that created a culture of malignanat racial hatred directed at white people who blithely were believing that they were instrumental in overcoming the segregated societies of the past?

    The same sweet-natured romanticism that gives a billion dollars to humanitarians like Hamas?

    Or the same sweet-natured romanticism that has given Iran a blank-check to develop nuclear power for “peaceful purposes”?

  3. cerberus6 says:

    –If you don’t, you are consigned to the ‘angry mob.’–

    Consigned to the angry mob today but they are working on walking the line from mob to militia to domestic terrorist. We may one day wish that all we were called was an angry mob because we disagreed with proposed legislation and tried to speak our concern to our elected representatives at a town hall meeting or by carring a sign.

    Ceb6

  4. VMAN says:

    You know I remember taking an anthropology course in college and I don’t remember people like Margret Meade and others interfering with the cultures they were observing. I think that is the basic problem with liberals they just can’t seem to keep their noses out of other people’s business. Liberals think that “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is something that can only accomplished through their wise guidance.

  5. U NO HOO says:

    “(What other Americans were studying Russian in the early 1960s?)”

    If 1965-66 counts, yours truly.

  6. Howard Roark says:

    Honestly, the more I read about her, the more one image keeps surfacing: Don Quixote.

    Here she is, chasing windmill after windmill through her silly, unrestrained life, resulting in misery and melancholy [to say nothing of one angry boy who suffers from an identity crisis, projecting every imagined speck of racism on an unsuspecting nation].

    She runs away from America, represented by upper-middle class parents who were all too willing to pick up after their daughter even into adulthood, when they had to attend to her “mistake” called Barack; she ran away from a formula of Western family values to chase the Mandingo fantasy, convincing herself that these two “husbands” of hers were really valuable; and finally, chasing the Communist dreams to the farthest corner of the Earth, hoping that she would see examples of something that would serve as a lesson to the ugly, capitalistic Westerners.

    Alas, in the end, she finds that these Indonesian blacksmiths didn’t want anything to do with her fuzzy-headed Marxism, so she flips the script in an act of desperate superiority to pretend that as an anthropologist, she needed to “reveal” to us a truth we could have told her before she set out tilting at windmills: that all people want to exercise their free will. Hear how she dresses it up for an audience of swooning academics:

    Indeed, Dr. Soetoro found that the villagers she studied in Central Java had many of the same economic needs, beliefs and aspirations as the most capitalist of Westerners. Village craftsmen were “keenly interested in profits,” she wrote, and entrepreneurship was “in plentiful supply in rural Indonesia,” having been “part of the traditional culture” there for a millennium.

  7. Mae says:

    Indeed, many of my college friends who were of conservative bent and many of liberal bent studied Russian in the 1960s if they wanted to work in government. Nothing suspicious in that. What is suspicious is that Dr. Soetoro loved “people” so much that she left her son to live with his grandparents while she studied, worked abroad and reared a daughter. In my book, that is abandonment; and it warped Barry Obama. Obama’s childhood friend/mentor–via his grandfather–was Frank Marshall, the communist, doper (smoked pot with grandpa and perhaps grandson?), child molester, and pornographer who knew and entertained Stanley Ann when she was a teenager. An entire family of warped beings. And now we have her creation as the President of the United States. You could not write a better script.

    • proreason says:

      Thank goodness he fell under the influence of more loving, rational and stable people later in life.

      The good Rev Wright, Father Pfleger, Billy Ayers, Professor Gates, Saul Alinsky, Farrakham, Wade Rathke, George Soros, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, and an army of Middle Eastern rabid dogs advisors

      With that rainbow of advisors, our country, like our Health Care system, is certainly in good hands.

  8. MinnesotaRush says:

    Oh my Gawd!!! It’s o-mama ….

    And she’s …. white. But …. he’s the first black president. But …. she’s white.

    Is it really “o”‘s mama?

    I’m confused. Gotta go lay down now. Headache. Dizzy. Whatha …

  9. canary says:

    Dreams from my Mother by MIchael R. Dove, in young Obama had a television, country club w/pool, hi-fi, electricity, car, and a modern hospital, because Obama’s mother thought Obama’s step-father Lolo was bad for being in the military and stopping communism. So, Lolo quit and got better paying job for the bad white men who brought prosperty and modernation to Indonesia. That was when Obama’s mother would yell that American’s were not her people. Obama’s most joyous years was in Indonesia, but his mother did not like the influence his step-father was. Obama was picking up Lolo’s power, but called it black power.


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