CHICAGO (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama says he didn’t know that one of his relatives was living in the United States illegally and believes the appropriate laws should be followed.
The Associated Press found that Obama’s aunt had been instructed to leave the country four years ago by an immigration judge who rejected her request for asylum from her native Kenya. The woman, Zeituni Onyango (zay-TUHN on-YANG-oh), is living in public housing in Boston and is the half-sister of Obama’s late father.
So this is our October November surprise. The Obama campaign has released a statement denying knowledge of Onyango’s legal status and stating that “any and all appropriate laws [should] be followed.” Senator Obama has met Onyango literally a handful of times in his life, once in Kenya and once in Chicago, and she attended his Senate swearing-in in 2004 without visa assistance from Obama’s staff. She’s mentioned in passing in Dreams of my Father, but has played no role whatsoever in the campaign or the public discourse.
We have a sick, sick media. Ms. Onyango is the half-sister of a father that Barack Obama barely knew, a father who left when his son was two years old, and who subsequently saw his son a grand total of one time after returning to Kenya. The Senator’s childhood, teenage years, adulthood, all of it was spent with his mother’s family, with no connection to Onyango or any of the rest of his father’s family.
This is personal. My biological father was an alcoholic who was functionally out of my life from the moment it began, and physically out of my life by the time I was three. For close to 20 years I had no contact with him, no child support, nothing, until I exchanged literally two letters with the man something like three years ago. My entire life has been a product of my mother’s family (and my stepfather,) and when Senator Obama writes that he “was probably shaped more by [his father’s] absence than his presence,” this speaks directly to the experiences of both myself and others who’ve been through such situations. He speaks directly to everyone who’s had to hear some so-called friend proclaim: “well if I was in your position, I’d be curious to know what my father was like.”
So let’s do a hypothetical. Let’s pretend I was electable for a moment, (somewhere other than Kerala,) and running for some public office. Obviously biography matters. Both candidates have made this about their personal stories. Family stories are relevent to the extent that they shape the person’s values. (I recently received the 91-page FBI file on my great-aunt, so you can file my political chances…) The problem is, Barack Obama’s father’s side of the family is exactly zero part of his life, and has been such for decades. He’s no more answerable for his father’s half-sister than I am for my biological father’s sister, whose name I can’t even come up with offhand, but who, I was once told, lives in an Orthodox community in Monsey, New York. Mazel tov for her, but for all I know she could be Chairwoman of the Aryan Brotherhood Jewish Women’s Auxiliary. What that has to do with the price of hash in Herat, let alone my hypothetical Senate campaign, is unclear; and any journalist who decided that this woman’s personal life was a front-page story three days before the election could consider himself expelled from the press room the day after I won.
It is fair game to profile a relative who the campaign has cited to help their candidate’s chances. Scarborough might be a douchebag, but Senator Obama did turn his white grandmother into a public figure when he mentioned her in his speech on race. Just the same, Joe McCarthyCain matters because he had been working on his brother’s campaign in between the red-baiting and abuse of emergency services. Onyango’s composite contribution to Senator Obama’s campaign, let alone his life, amounts to something like $200 worth of campaign cash.
The context makes this story even nastier. Going on two years, the press and the political right have debated everything from Senator Obama’s birth certificate to his childhood education to his alleged Arab heritage. The Very Serious Media has alternated between giving equal time to and debunking smears on his patriotism including the flag pin flap and the national anthem story, while the Know-Nothing McCain-Palin ticket slices America into real and fake segments.* The press frequently presents both sides of every story with equal weight, even while partisans of the right bring outright white nationalist perspectives. (Sorry Kathy, but “blood equity” is a bit too Ein Volk, Ein Reich for my taste…)
And so, into this foreigner-smearing, patriotism-questioning, race-baiting, not-like-us discourse, the entirety of our big media chooses to excrete a story about the illegal immigration status of Obama’s distant aunt some three days before the election. The Washington Post, MSNBC, and Fox News are all running this as the second story on their websites as of 3 PM Saturday. Jerome Corsi would be proud.
*(New York and northern Virginia become “Real America” on occasions upon which they are attacked by terrorists. Offer not valid after 30 days.)