Like Father, Like Son

President Obama's gift for the con was learned from Barack Obama Sr.

In my two previous books on President Obama, I stressed his affinity with his dad, how he absorbed the dreams of his father.

This wasn’t some bizarre theory I made up; I got it directly from Obama’s own autobiography “Dreams from My Father,” which conveys its main thesis in the title.

I previously argued that while Obama saw that his dad was a failure, and refused to emulate his personality, he nevertheless embraced his Kenyan father’s anticolonial ideology. Consequently, Obama sought to diminish America’s wealth and power out of a moral commitment to global redistribution. My thesis was that Obama wanted America to go down, so that other countries could come up.

Over two terms Obama has shown himself consistent in pursuing these objectives. My characterization of him, and also my specific predictions about Obama — he would double the national debt, he would strengthen our enemies while undermining our allies — have proven correct.

Even so, I now see I got an important part of my story wrong. Obama’s relationship with his dad was not merely one of ideological emulation; it was also one of the junior scam artist following the trail of the senior artist.

Obama came to admire his dad from a very young age. At that time he was naïve. He aspired to be just like dad, a lion of a man, a figure of history. As a young adult, however, Obama discovered his father was no lion of a man, no figure of history. Rather, he was a petty con man. His cons involved an unending series of poses, impostures, and lies to make himself into something he was not, whether it be for the purpose of getting to America, or getting others to pay his bills, or seducing women, or illicitly advancing his career, or attracting social admiration and prestige for things he had not done. Eventually these scams were exposed and Barack Obama Sr. died a bitter, broken man.

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Obama now realized his father was a failed con man. Yet this did not cause Obama to give up on his childhood infatuation. Obama still aspired to follow in his father’s path. He decided to become a con man himself. And part of this involved embracing the con man’s pitch, which was anticolonialism. This pitch was marked as a “dream.” In fact, it was less a dream than a scheme.

Obama knew that he would have to redesign his father’s con. He had no intention of being a petty con man.

Obama knew that he would have to redesign his father’s con. He had no intention of being a petty con man. He wasn’t going to do this for bigamy, social exhibitionism or free drinks. He set his sights on the summits of wealth and power. Moreover, he was determined that while his father had failed, he would succeed. And we must admit that he has.

Obama was first exposed to his father’s lies at the age of 10, when Barack Sr. came to visit Hawaii. Obama was already a little fibber himself.

“I explained to a group of boys that my father was a prince. ‘My grandfather, see, he’s a chief. It’s sort of like the king of the tribe, you know … like the Indians. So that makes my father a prince.”

Privately, young Obama dreaded that his father would embarrass him with his primitive accounts of poverty and mud huts. Yet Barack Sr. wowed the teacher and the class by arriving in spectacular African robes and regaling the group with fables of the Luo tribe, punctuated with a fantastic story of how as a young boy he had to kill a lion to prove his manhood. Here young Obama saw firsthand the power of the con artist’s “pitch.”

In reality Barack Sr. was no lion slayer. He was actually a lion-sized liar. We see this pattern by briefly following his career. He said he came to America on a great airlift that brought promising Africans to study in America through an effort pioneered by President Kennedy. Proving himself his father’s son, Obama Jr. repeated that fable when he was running for president.

In fact, as the son knew, the father had taken the competitive exam for the airlift and failed. Moreover, according to Robert Stephens, the cultural affairs officer of the U.S. Information Service, who interviewed Obama Sr., “He really prevaricated about his school record. He was a very good talker and tried to talk me out of it, but there was nothing I could do. He just did not have the grades.”

Rejected for the airlift, Obama Sr. made his way to America by charming two missionary women into helping him secure college admission and even paying for his way over and part of his tuition. Obama’s technique was to take the two women dancing. One of them contributed a substantial portion of her salary to help Obama Sr. Later in America, he would try again to extract money from her, but by this time she was married with stepchildren and unable to help.

Obama’s own marital history was checked and also a testament to his con man skills. He had married a woman named Kezia in Kenya and left his family for America when she had borne him a child, with another on the way. Shortly after enrolling at the University of Hawaii, Barack Sr. seduced Ann Dunham. He didn’t tell her about his wife in Africa. She bore him a child, Barack Jr. and the two of them married. Officially at this point Obama Sr. had two wives.

He dumped Ann, however, even before Barack Jr. was born. Off he went on a scholarship to Harvard, where he took up with another woman, Ruth Ann Baker. He took her back to Africa, where he had a son by her, while also reuniting with his first wife Kezia, and had two more children with her.

Later in life, Obama Sr.’s mobility was hampered because of his drunk-driving habits, which got him into several accidents, including one in which both his legs had to be amputated and replaced with iron rods. This setback did not, however, thwart his courtship style, because in that condition he impregnated his fourth wife, Jael Otieno, producing another child named George. Obama looked after none of his wives nor any of his children.

At Harvard, Barack Sr. got his nickname “Double Double” because he liked to order a double Scotch and tell the waiter, as soon as it was delivered, “Another double.” He also became known for having others foot the bill. Eventually Harvard became suspicious of false statements he had made on his application. So did the U. S. Immigration Service. Harvard refused to renew his enrollment and Obama Sr. was forced to return to Kenya.

There, Obama claimed to be a Harvard graduate, even though he had not completed his degree and had been effectively deported back to Kenya. He insisted on being called “Dr. Obama,” even though he didn’t have a doctorate. In his work as an economist, he would cite certain propositions as proved by his Ph.D. thesis, but when he was asked to substantiate his claims, he could not produce the thesis. He said burglars broke into his house and stole it.

At first, Obama Sr.’s lies paid off. He got promising positions working for the Kenya government. During this time, he cultivated a British accent and insisted that people call him “Bearick,” not “Barack.” He wore silk suits, drove a green Mercedes, and employed house servants who bowed to him, Japanese-style, when he returned home. These were the ego-satisfying rewards of his scam artistry.

Alas for Obama Sr., the music soon died. He was eventually fired from every job he held, either due to his chronic drunkenness, irresponsibility in carrying out assignments, or pure deception. While his peers moved up in life, Obama Sr. moved down, being consigned eventually to make-work jobs.

Even while his career was languishing and he held low-level jobs in government, Obama Sr. became known for impersonating important people so he could be treated as a celebrity.

Even while his career was languishing and he held low-level jobs in government, Obama Sr. became known for impersonating important people so he could be treated as a celebrity. On one occasion, he attended a conference in Ghana where he pretended to be Z. T. Onyonka, the Kenyan minister for economic planning. When the real Onyonka showed up, the organizers thought he was the impostor. Needless to say, Onyonka was not amused, and Obama Sr. was reprimanded.

Finally, Obama Sr. found himself working in a low-level position at the Kenya Tourism Board. But even there, board member G. M. Matheka said he found Obama Sr. “posing as a deputy general manager,” a post that did not exist. When enough of his deceptions piled up, Obama Sr. was again fired. In 1982, disgraced and virtually broke, Obama Sr. got drunk in a bar in Nairobi and drove into a tree, killing himself.

As a child, Obama Jr. simply idolized his father, but in his mid-20s he visited Kenya and through interactions with his relatives, realized that his father was not any of the things he had imagined him to be.

Young Obama was shocked. “I felt as if my world had been turned on its head, as if I had woken up to find a blue sun in the yellow sky or heard animals speaking like men.”

But in Africa, Barack Jr. saw that his father’s real talent had been as a poser and a fabricator, and through a skein of lies and disguises he had managed to con various people over the years until the cons were finally exposed. Obama Jr. saw that lying and fakery were really Obama Sr.’s talismanic secrets. He also figured that these were precisely the skills he had inherited from his father.

Barack Sr. had huge con man aspirations. He wanted to be a big man in Kenya, and he wanted to get his hands on the wealth of the nation. At one point he proposed tax rates of 100 percent to confiscate all private wealth in Kenya.

Barack Jr., it seems, has built on his father’s aspirations, with his eyes on the wealth of America. He, too, envisions having the private earnings of people put at the disposal of the government, so they would then be controlled by people like, well, him.

Obama Sr.’s 100 percent taxation scheme came to nothing in Kenya, but one can easily envision how it may have inspired his son in America. Perhaps where the father had failed, the son could achieve a greater measure of success.

Dinesh D’Souza’s new book is Stealing America, published by HarperCollins.

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