On Stanley Ann Dunham: Who was the president’s mother?
In this article Jacob Weisberg, editor-in-chief of Slate Group, discusses the recently released biography of President Obama’s mother, “A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother” by Janny Scott.
It’s an engaging read as it’s not really a book review per se, but rather Mr. Weisberg’s speculation about the nature of the President’s relationship with his mother and how it might have affected who he is today—something that the biography’s author didn’t do, as pointed out in the article.
(Note: There’s more about Stanley Dunham, an interview with Janny Scott, and an excerpt from the book at NPR.)
If you enjoy biographies, this might be a good book to put on your list. It’s already been added to mine. Anyway, on to the article:
When depicting their family origins for public consumption, American presidents tend to downplay the importance of Dad while idealizing Mom. Dwight D. Eisenhower described his mother, who was a pacifist and Jehovah’s Witness, as “saintly.” Richard Nixon called Hannah Milhous Nixon a “Quaker saint.” Jimmy Carter wrote one of his many post-presidential books about his “remarkable mother,” Miss Lillian, who went to India with the Peace Corps at the age of 68. George W. Bush identified with saber-toothed Barbara as a way of differentiating himself from the male parent he physically resembled.
Barack Obama breaks this pattern, as he does others. The memoir he wrote in his early 30s was framed around a search for his African father, a man who did nothing to raise him and whom he hardly knew as a child. That book stands as such an extraordinary act of self-examination by a future president that it’s possible while reading it to overlook what the book overlooks: Stanley Ann Dunham, the parent who actually raised him. Obama sought to rectify this gap when Dreams From My Father was republished during his 2004 Senate campaign, adding in a new preface that if he’d known his mother would not survive the illness that killed her in 1995, he might to have chosen to focus his book around the woman who was “the single constant in my life.”
When asked by journalists about his mother, Obama does not seem reluctant to talk about her, but does so with a striking degree of critical distance. “She was a very strong person in her own way,” he tells Janny Scott, who has set out to offer a fuller portrait in her biography of Dunham, A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother. “Resilient, able to bounce back from setbacks, persistent—the fact that she ended up finishing her dissertation. But despite all those strengths, she was not a well-organized person. And that disorganization, you know, spilled over.”