Yes, everything is about Barack Obama. From the beginning, he has built his career on his own personal story, and the funeral service of former Hawaiian Senator Daniel Inouye at the National Cathedral on Friday apparently struck him as an opportune time to remind the world what that story was. In his 1,600-word oration, Obama even managed to work in the fact, as though someone in the universe might not have heard, that he had “a white mom [and] a black father” “and was raised in Indonesia and Hawaii.”
The problem, however, is not just that Obama used the word “my” 21 times, “me” 12 times, and “I” 30 times in the course of telling his story, but rather that even at a funeral, he could not keep the story straight.
Obama’s oration dealt to a large degree with how he came to understand what a U.S. senator is. “Now, even though my mother and grandparents took great pride that they had voted for him,” said Barack Obama of Inouye, “I confess that I wasn’t paying much attention to the United States Senate at the age of four or five or six. It wasn’t until I was 11 years old that I recall even learning what a U.S. senator was, or it registering, at least. It was during my summer vacation with my family — my first trip to what those of us in Hawaii call the Mainland.”
The story of the trip set up the punch line. He told Inouye’s mourners that “my mother that summer would turn on the TV every night during this vacation and watch the Watergate hearings,” and he was forced to watch, too. Of course, the senator who “fascinated” him most was “this man of Japanese descent with one arm, speaking in this courtly baritone, full of dignity and grace.”
This story would work only if Obama had toured the United States during the summer of the Watergate hearings, 1973, when he was eleven years old going on twelve, but in his memoir Dreams from My Father, he tells another story — a much more specific one. Yes, he made the same trip, but he did so “during the summer after my father’s visit to Hawaii, before my eleventh birthday.” This would have been 1972, when Watergate was still a third-rate burglary that had gotten little media traction.