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Obama's Cousin

Ed Kilgore is managing editor of The Democratic Strategist, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, and a frequent contributor to a variety of political journals.

The exotic family background of the 44th President of the United States was so endlessly discussed during the 2008 campaign that it’s sometimes easy to take it for granted, until something like this happens in a meeting with African leaders during the G-8 summit:

"[Deputy National Security Advisor] Froman recounted that the president shared that when his father, Barack Obama Sr., came to the United States from Kenya, Kenya's GDP was higher than Korea's.

"Obviously much has happened since then and he wanted to make it clear that the problems that Africans face weren’t just a product of colonialism or past history," Froman said, "that this partnership -- whether it's over food security or other development ideas -- require local governments to take responsibility seriously. This wasn’t a time to make excuses. And that it was important to join together in a clear-eyed way."

As the president put it, Froman went on, "his cousin in Kenya can’t find a job without paying a bribe, and that’s not the fault of the G-8. And when companies can’t operate without paying, in some parts of Africa, without paying the 25 percent fee off the top in bribes, that’s not colonialism."

While it’s not impossible to imagine, say, George W. Bush lecturing African leaders about official corruption, it is impossible to imagine any other American president doing so with this kind of authority. If, as conservatives have often implied, Barack Obama isn’t entirely "American," America is deriving some unusual benefits from his unusual background.

--Ed Kilgore