President Obama told the nation July 19 in the White House that "when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son." He paused, then said, "Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago." Obama was 17 then, Martin's age at death.
How is America to take that? As a direct comparison? As heartfelt sympathy for African-American outrage at the "not guilty" on all charges jury verdict in George Zimmerman's trial for killing the youth? As officious, racially-charged grandstanding? Or as sheer political hypocrisy?
I asked Second Amendment Foundation founder Alan Gottlieb, whose organization intensively followed the legal side of the Zimmerman case, "How would you answer those questions?' He told me, "Ask about Obama, not Trayvon. SAF's research archive is a good start." It was, and led to a mountain of old clips:
Where was Obama 35 years ago — 1978 — and what was he doing?
He was nearing his 18th birthday — Aug. 4 — looking forward to his senior year at Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii. Since 1841, Punahou has been an elite private college preparatory school ($19,200 current tuition) with 99 percent of graduates entering a four-year university; its sports program was ranked best in America by Sports Illustrated in 2008-09.
Our president got there because his black father from Kenya met a white girl from Kansas in a Russian language class at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu, practically adjacent to Punahou School. Barack Hussein Obama (in America he used the nickname Barry) married Ann Dunham in early 1961.
Barack Junior arrived later the same year, and the next year Barack Senior departed, sent by Kenyan politician Tom Mboya to Harvard University for his master's degree (Mboya had also sent him to Hawaii for undergraduate work), abandoning Ann and little Barry. Ann divorced him when the boy was three — she discovered he already had a wife and two children back in Kenya but no divorce.
Obama Senior returned to Kenya with his master's in economics and advanced to the powerful position of senior economist of Kenya's Ministry of Finance. (For those who wonder how Obama Junior got into Harvard Law School, it helped a lot that he was a "legacy," offspring of a Harvard graduate.) Dunham remarried, lived in Indonesia, divorced, and became a career anthropologist.
Obama's mother sent him to live with her parents when he was 10 — Stanley and Madelyn — Gramps and Tutu (Hawaiian for grandmother) — both Kansas natives. Stanley was a furniture salesman and Madelyn was a Bank of Hawaii vice-president, remarkable because she was both a woman and a haole ("foreigner," meaning white). They raised young Obama to be ambitious, middle-class, and to honor his Kenyan identity.
Classmates recall young Barry Obama (he used his father's nickname) as a fairly normal prep school kid just like them — intelligent beyond his years but not overly intellectual, OK but not stellar grades (B-minus average), resentful of Punahou's snotty rich cliques of the pineapple Doles and the Waikiki developers' kids, while at the same time enjoying his cool status as a student in Hawaii's most elite school.
Racial issues at Punahou did not affect Obama or the half-dozen other black kids. The despised minority in much of Hawaii at the time were haole. The last day of school before summer was traditionally known as Kill Haole Day. School children of Hawaiian ancestry on Kill Haole Day harassed, and sometimes assaulted, white children. Obama finished Punahou without once being harassed on Kill Haole Day.
He was nicknamed "Barry O'Bomber" for nailing long shots on Punahou's Buff'n'Blue varsity basketball team. His left-handed double pump shot let him show off a little at pickup games in college and after. He was cool, but not above dishing up ice cream at a Baskin-Robbins store as his first job during high school.
Obama smoked marijuana with his Punahou buddies and didn't get caught. His 1979 Punahou Ohauan senior yearbook entry contained a fond farewell to his "Choom Gang" — "chooming" is Hawaiian pidgin for smoking marijuana.
Obama sang in the Punahou choir and joined Ka Wai Ola, the school's literary journal. There he learned voice modulation, to precisely enunciate, to phrase speech lyrically, to know the great authors, and to write a graceful and compelling compound-complex English sentence by his mid-teens — exceptional writing skills and sonorous speaking style that made him who he is in 2013.
So, could our preppie president have been Trayvon Martin 35 years ago?
Washington Examiner columnist Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.