Barack Obama, Birther

The claim that President` Barack Obama was born in Kenya always struck us as a bit dubious. Although we wouldn’t put it past Obama to do something like that, the idea simply seemed too good to be true. We also didn’t care for the company in the “birther” crowd, which seemed to be populated mostly by tinfoil-hat-wearing types and the likes of Donald Trump, and there always seemed to be plenty of other things to bash Obama about.

Birtherism suddenly seems a more respectable conspiracy theory, however, now that we’ve learned it apparently originated with Obama’s very own literary representatives. The delightful gadflies over at have dug up some promotional materials released by the Acton & Dystel agency back in 1991, and the biography of their as-yet-unpublished author states that “Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, was born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii.”

This doesn’t constitute proof that Obama is Kenyan by birth, of course, and the writers make it painstakingly clear that they do not mean to imply it does, but the error seems worth a passing notice nonetheless. Not just because it’s hilarious, but because there’s some revealingly Freudian about the slip.

The woman who wrote the erroneous bio now says it was an honest mistake on her part, which is believable, but it can be inferred that she thought that an author born in Kenya would be of greater interest to a reader than one of a mundane American birth. Looking at the short biographies of some of the other esteemed authors represented by Acton & Dystel, such as consumer activist Ralph Nader, former House Speaker Tip O’Neill, and the briefly popular boy band New Kids on the Block, we note that none of them mention a birthplace. Because the error went uncorrected until 2007, right around the time Obama began campaigning in earnest for the presidency, we can also assume the author agreed that being born Kenyan would enhance his literary appeal if not if his political prospects.

A similar affinity for the exotic can be found in Elizabeth Warren, the purebred paleface Democratic candidate for Senate in Massachusetts who falsely claimed to be the only Native American woman on the Harvard Law School faculty, and for that matter in countless lefties of our acquaintance. In polite society these days no one wants to be thought a plain old American.

Unless they’re in a close election and are trying to portray their opponent as an out-of-touch rich guy, of course. Back in 2008 Obama’s dog-eating boyhood was part of the sales pitch, the idea being that his cosmopolitan upbringing would win the world’s affection after eight years of the gauchely American George W. Bush, but now that it doesn’t seem to have worked out as planned he’s back to being regular ol’ Barry, and any reminder of his formerly intriguing foreignness is considered a racist attempt to cast him as “the other.”

It’s nice to reminded, then, that Obama once reveled in the role.

— Bud Norman

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