A few weeks ago I got into an email skirmish with a Jewish philanthropist here in Miami who was trying to encourage Orthodox Jews to register Democrat to back a particular candidate in a local Democrat primary. This candidate was said to back a particular program in State government that was worth several million dollars a year to Jewish parochial schools. I argued that it was not the role of wealthy Jews to figure out how to get the government to support Jewish institutions; their role is to give and to encourage other people of means to give. If the charitable outlay is still inadequate, let the schools ask the politicians for help themselves, in essence saying: “We’re sorry but our own people won’t cover our bills, can you help?”
He was not thrilled with my attitude and he asked a challenging question: “Do you think you are the only ish emes in Miami?” Ish emes, or Ish Emet in the Sephardic pronunciation, is Hebrew for a Man of Truth. Sadly I did not feel I could live up to the title, but I did feel a surge of ambition when I saw those words in his letter. Wow, wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could attain that status in my lifetime, if I could be remembered that way afterward?
Which brings me to my new hero, George Obama.
I don’t say that humorously or ironically or in any other adverbial format but sincerely. The last thing I expected was to think much of a Presidential brother. Yes, I thought Jeb was the much more impressive Bush went I met him, speaking smoothly without notes and masterful in command of matters in the public realm. But he was a Governor in his own right before his brother became President, so he did not need anyone’s coattails for support.
Beyond that, Presidential brethren tend to fade into the background. Billy Carter was a famous nuisance, Roger Clinton was a troublesome ne’er-do-well, Nixon’s brothers popped into the White House now and then, but the rest stayed in the background, perhaps not always willingly. Ronald Reagan’s brother was never invited to the White House. Bill Clinton found out after he became President about a half-brother through his father and by all accounts never even got in touch with the guy.
For Obama, with half-siblings everywhere, it could turn into a three-ring circus if he tried to invite them all for Thanksgiving dinner. Still, the quirky story of his half brother, George, living in a hut in Kenya on ten dollars a month came to reflect badly on a wealthy man who left his brother in squalor. Now Dinesh D’Souza has gone to Kenya to interview George for a documentary, and the amazing footage shows us a remarkable man, someone we can all admire, an Ish Emes. You might not expect Barack Obama’s brother to be an embodiment of traditional virtues, but clearly he is just that.
First of all, he neither downgrades his brother nor idolizes him. It is not his brother’s job to support him, because he is of age. His brother is taking care of his own family. As a President, his brother is trying to take care of the world and he is part of that world. He praises his father for being a highly educated man but he freely confesses that his mother expected more of him as the son of such an exceptional person.
He takes full responsibility for the opinions about Kenya in a book he co-wrote in 2010. He argues that Kenya would be more developed economically today if it had not pushed out the white man’s guidance too soon, unlike South Africa. He admits that Malaysia, Singapore, and South Korea vastly outperform Kenya because of a superior culture promoting education and responsibility.
Once you get past being startled, this is remarkably refreshing. Here is a man poor enough to tell the truth as he sees it — about his life, about his country, about the world — without fear or favor, flouting all conventional wisdom and political correctness. He refuses to blame his shortcomings on his brother, his father, his mother or anybody else but himself. He does all this in a relaxed and thoughtful mode, a man at peace with himself, always on the verge of a smile.
So it turns out that by electing the truth-mauling brother we did get ourselves a role model for honesty. Only it’s his brother on the other side of the world in Kenya. Presumably the book got him out of the hut, but I would love to see him on a tour stateside. On second thought, here he is liable to be corrupted.
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