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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Head Strong: Obama's unique American story

By Michael Smerconish
Inquirer Currents Columnist

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I'm an avid reader, so chances are I would have gotten around to Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father sooner or later. I confess that I read it sooner out of curiosity about his reported admissions of drug usage. Yes, there is such a discussion. But it accounts for only two pages in the 442-page tome; the remaining 440 pages were something entirely different and, dare I say, uniquely American. It's an amazing story and, regardless of the electoral ending, a uniquely American one. This country has always valued rags-to-riches tales, and Obama's family history is nothing less. I suspect that if the story began in Poland, or Germany or the Ukraine, it would be trumpeted as an American classic, not made a subject for urban legend. The book is the story of Obama's search for identity. Some milestones in that journey have been reported elsewhere, including his birth in Hawaii in 1961; time in Indonesia; return to Hawaii and attendance at a prestigious prep school; college education; and work as a community organizer in Chicago before attending law school at Harvard, where he was the first African American president of the Law Review. From that perch, he was offered his first book deal. The resulting memoir, written when Obama was 33, was first published in 1995. He was elected to the Illinois state Senate the following year. Almost a decade thereafter, he added a new preface acknowledging that "certain passages have proved to be inconvenient politically, the grist for pundit commentary and opposition research." Indeed.

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