Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Keep it in the Family


An explanation for Barack Obama's extraordinary progress towards the Democratic nomination - and perhaps the White House as well has emerged from the bowels of a New England genealogical society. The pedigree-obsessed gnomes who inhabit that institution (it can be no coincidence, surely, that it is based in Boston) have been delving into the Illinois senators antecedents and discovered that he is related to absolutely everybody. The Telegraph were leading with the revelation that Obama has some kind of kinship with Brad Pitt (while, deliciously, Hillary Clinton is vaguely related to Angelina Jolie). But those in the know will surely be more interested in the connections that Obama has to six presidents, including the present incumbent. He's also a ninth cousin to Dick Cheney.

So much interest has the story produced that the organisation's website has experienced severe crashes and delays. Though I'm not sure whether the connection to Pitt or to Cheney will seem the more relevant or appropriate. Certainly the discovery of such links is not new. At the time of the last presidential clash, it emerged that George W Bush and John Kerry were quite closely related. (They also shared a connection via the Skull and Bones Society of Yale, which some people found equally or even more exciting.) And the election before that saw two candidates, Bush and Gore, who might almost be said to belong to the same extended family. But all these men were born into the Washington purple. Obama is supposed to be an outsider: in many ways that's the whole point of him. So to find out he's genealogically connected to half the Establishment families is, at first sight, rather shocking. No doubt he can blame it all on his racist granny.

One person who will not be at all surprised is David Icke. Icke has long been of the opinion that all powerful individuals on the planet are related via an ancient bloodline descended from shape-shifting giant lizards. In 1999 he predicted victory for Bush: on the grounds that, while both Bush and Gore had many connections to the "Illuminati", Bush was marginally the more reptilian. Which is why the high-ups of the international brotherhood (rather than, say, Jeb Bush) fixed the result in Florida. Quite how he managed to explain how Clinton managed to beat Bush senior I'm not sure, though he's no doubt part tyrannosaur himself. As for Hillary, the best the Bostonian gene-hunters can give her is Celine Dion. Oh, and Alanis Morisette. And possibly Madonna.

As if we didn't know it already, she's history.

But back to Barack (which rhymes with Iraaq, as his opponents will no doubt be reminding American voters when the campaign proper gets under way). Much hilarity has been had over the past few days when someone unearthed reports from a year ago that he used to be known as Barry. Barry O'Bomber, to his friends, which makes him sound like an IRA terrorist a minister in the devolved Northern Ireland government. His adoption of the name Barack, which comes from Arabic via Swahili, seems counter-intuitive given good 'ol American xenophobia. Perhaps it's a pre-emptive strike, aimed at heading off accusations that he was "concealing" his true identity. Perhaps it was part of the flirtation with group identity politics that also brought about his association with the Rev Jeremiah Wright, which was arguably necessary to get his early career off the ground (as Dick Morris suggested) but which now looks potentially damaging. Or perhaps he just thought that "Barack" sounded cool. Anything sounds cooler than "Barry".