What a careful reader will take away from Barack Obama’s memoir Dreams from My Father is not only that the president used to eat dog meat, but more importantly, that he identifies with dog-eaters. He wants us to understand that he is one of them. Obama’s most severe critics on the right think of Obama as a socialist, for example, Dinesh D’Souza, or Stanley Kurtz in his exhaustively-researched book Radical-in-Chief. Obama used to attend the annual “Socialist Scholars Conference” in New York, which was a hard-core affair; I went to a couple of them, and they weren’t for the curious. But there is something far more visceral, more existential to the president’s dislike of the United States, and that arises from his early residence in the Third World, and his identification with the people of the Third World whose lives are disrupted by the creative destruction that America has unleashed.
Obama is the son of a Kenyan Muslim father, the stepson of an Indonesian Muslim, and the child, most of all, of an American anthropologist who devoted her career to protecting Indonesian traditional life against the depredations of the global marketplace. Her doctoral dissertation, “Peasant blacksmithing in Indonesia: surviving against all odds,” celebrated traditional cultures hanging on desperately in the face of the global economic marketplace.
Ms. Dunham was not only a Communist fellow-traveler, but the sort of 1960s woman who (as we used to say) “put her body on the line,” first by marrying two Third World men, and then by spending her career in the Third World. It is no surprise that Obama considers the Third World morally superior to the United States. Consider this description of the Jakarta of his childhood from Obama’s autobiography, Dreams from My Father: “And yet for all that poverty [in the Indonesian marketplace], there remained in their lives a discernible order, a tapestry of trading routes and middlemen, bribes to pay and customs to observe, the habits of a generation played out every day beneath the bargaining and the noise and the swirling dust. It was the absence of such coherence that made a place like [the Chicago housing projects] so desperate.” Obama had chances to compare the orderliness and regularity of traditional life with the rough-and-tumble of American capitalism, and chose to identify with the former.