Addressing civil rights activists in Selma, Ala., a year ago, Sen. Barack Obama traced his "very existence" to the generosity of the Kennedy family, which he said paid for his Kenyan father to travel to America on a student scholarship and thus meet his Kansan mother.
The Camelot connection has become part of the mythology surrounding Obama's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. After Caroline Kennedy endorsed his candidacy in January, Newsweek commentator Jonathan Alter reported that she had been struck by the extraordinary way in which "history replays itself" and by how "two generations of two families -- separated by distance, culture and wealth -- can intersect in strange and wonderful ways." It is a touching story -- but the key details are either untrue or grossly oversimplified.
Contrary to Obama's claims in speeches in January at American University and in Selma last year, the Kennedy family did not provide the funding for a September 1959 airlift of 81 Kenyan students to the United States that included Obama's father. According to historical records and interviews with participants, the Kennedys were first approached for support for the program nearly a year later, in July 1960. The family responded with a $100,000 donation, most of which went to pay for a second airlift in September 1960.
Obama spokesman Bill Burton acknowledged yesterday that the senator from Illinois had erred in crediting the Kennedy family with a role in his father's arrival in the United States. He said the Kennedy involvement in the Kenya student program apparently "started 48 years ago, not 49 years ago as Obama has mistakenly suggested in the past."
Very little information has surfaced in mainstream media reporting about Obama's father during this campaign. Reading the negative picture Dobbs paints of the senior Obama after he walked out on his son's life at two years of age, you can understand why little is said about him. Dobbs writes:
Obama Sr. never quite lived up to his enormous potential. He achieved his dream of studying at Harvard after graduating from the University of Hawaii. He divorced Dunham in 1963 and married another woman.
He returned to Kenya and became a close aide to Mboya, a fellow Luo tribesman, at the Ministry of Economic Development. According to his old "drinking buddy" Ochieng, he antagonized other officials with his "boasting," was "excessively fond of Scotch" and ended up in poverty "without a job." He got into frequent car accidents, one of which led to the amputation of both his legs. He was killed in another car accident, in 1982, at the age of 46.
As regular readers of this blog know, I'm no fan of Hillary or Bill Clinton. Yet I still believe the media has been far more negative in its coverage of her than it has been of Obama. The media, for example, climbed all over the discovery that Clinton had exaggerated conditions during a trip she made to Bosnia in the 1990s. It's good to see someone in the mainstream media is beginning to challenge Obama's claims. As I pointed out yesterday, Obama has been falsely claiming to have been a law professor at the University of Chicago for years now. More accurately, he served as a senior lecturer. It is understandable that Obama would have to resort to exaggerations to boost his credentials. He's been in the U.S. Senate for less than four years and served a little more than that amount of time in the Illinois State Senate. That's something short of the credentials most presidents bring to the office.