My contention has been: "Obama is President for the same dumb reason as the last guy was President: because of who his daddy was."
This is not a respectable view on either side of the aisle. It's not even a respectable view in the more fever swampish realms of anti-Obama theories. As I pointed out in 2008, the common denominator of everything from Obamamania to birtherism is "a widespread desire among whites of all political stripes to not think about race anymore, and to imagine that Obama doesn’t either." We're all past such crude, outdated ideas as race, right? Ancestry and family ties don't mean anything to anybody anymore.
Except that we're not, which is why Obama is President, and why Obama was even considered Presidential timber.
Yet, how can we test my theory that the common denominator of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama being considered Presidential timber is who their fathers were?
Fortunately, it's easy to perform a thought experiment on the previous President. If George W. Bush had been born George W. Rush, would he have become President? You can even assume the hypothetical Rushes were as materially prosperous as the real Bushes. The only difference in our thought experiment is that George W. Rush's father wasn't President Rush and his grandfather wasn't Senator Rush.
So, would George W. Rush have become President of the United States? Would he have been considered Presidential timber?
Of course not. He might have become, say, national sales manager of some corporation. But that's about it.
Note that this is not a question of whether George W. Rush would have beaten Al Gore and John F. Kerry. Maybe, knowing the deficiencies of those candidates, George W. Rush might have. Instead, this is a question of whether George W. Rush would have, out of 300 million people, ever been imagined to be President by anybody outside his own brain? I think most would agree the answer is: no. (George W. Bush would have lost a Presidential election if the only voters were his parents and his only opponent his brother Jeb.)
What about Obama? Would he have ever been considered for the Presidency if his father hadn't been black?
The current President would seem to have a much more unique background that would make it difficult to plug him into this kind of thought experiment. Yet, Ann Dunham's propensity for marrying U. of Hawaii students from politically well-connected families with a history of anti-colonial activism in their tropical homelands, who then return to their Third World countries and get jobs with American oil companies makes our conceptual task surprisingly easier.
Would our current President have become President in an alternative universe in which he was not Barack Obama, the son of Ann Dunham's Kenyan first husband, but (permanently) Barry Soetoro, the son of her Indonesian second husband?
The question of "What If Obama Were Half-Asian" would sound less crazy to Obama than it does to most Americans since Obama has a half-Asian half-sister, Maya Soetoro.
Alternatively, assume that Lolo and Ann had never mentioned to Barry that Lolo wasn't his genetic father and, because race doesn't exist, therefore nobody else noticed either.
Minus the racial angle, that's roughly the story of Gerald Ford's upbringing -- he only spent 15 minutes in his life talking to his biological father. Likewise, nobody is all that sure who Bill Clinton's biological father really was.
If Ford and Clinton had self-identified with different fathers, would that have permanently banished them from ever being even considered as Presidential timber? Maybe, but maybe not. In their quite different ways -- Ford was an All-American athlete, a male model before he went bald, and a Yale Law School grad, while Clinton was a political ball of fire and a Yale Law School grad -- they were early on recognized as guys with a lot of political potential. Their unusual yet mundane family backgrounds didn't seem to play a huge role in their careers, one way or another.
Being half-black, Barack Obama was the one we were waiting for.
But, as far as I can tell, not many Americans are particularly waiting around for the First Half-Asian Whatever. Would Barry Soetoro have gotten a six-figure advance to write the autobiography of the first half-Asian editor of the Harvard Law Review? Would Barry Soetoro have been elected editor of the Harvard Law Review? Would Barry Soetoro even have been been admitted to Harvard Law? (Barack Obama said, while he was at Harvard, that he had been the beneficiary of affirmative action, so it's certainly legitimate to wonder.) Would the U. of Chicago Law School have offered Barry Soetoro tenure despite publishing no legal articles?
Would Barry Soetoro have even been able to get Barack Obama's community organizer job?
No. Byron York reported:
So [Jerry] Kellman set out to find a black organizer. He ran an ad in some trade publications, and Obama responded. But at first Kellman wasn’t sure Obama was right for the job. “My wife was Japanese-American,” Kellman recalled. “I showed her the résumé, with the background in Hawaii. The name’s Obama, so I asked, ‘Could this be Japanese?’ She said, ‘Sure, it could be.’” It was only when Kellman talked to Obama on the phone, and Obama “expressed interest in something African-American culturally,” that a relieved Kellman offered Obama the job.
Overall, how far would Barry Soetoro have gotten?
Everything I know about the man suggests that, all else being equal, if he weren't able to self-identify as black, he would have carved out for himself a comfortable, respectable, and worthy life and made a positive social contribution. He would certainly have ranked among the top several million people in America.
But, President Barry Soetoro?