A Cautious Man
August 03, 2009
 
Who's Your Daddy?
Michelle Obama has spoken with pride and admiration of how her father raised her and her brother. Michelle Malkin has now written an unsavory attack on the First Lady's late father, Fraser Robinson. As documented by Media Matters for America, Ms. Malkin's new collection of rantings includes, as one of her attacks, this claim:

Mrs. Obama was literally born into the Chicago political corruptocracy. Her father, Fraser Robinson, was a volunteer precinct caption for the Democrat Party [sic]. ... Former alderman Leon Despres bluntly told Mundy that it was "overwhelmingly likely" that Robinson's job at the city water department was a reward for his loyalty.

A review of the source for the above "conclusion" actually shows the truth to be, well, the opposite, actually. This particular line of attack by Ms. Malkin attracted my interest because, once upon a time, she also was proud to highlight the accomplishments of her father, an immigrant and a physician. However, probably for the same pander-to-the-right reasons, Ms. Malkin has downplayed her immigrant father in describing herself.

Ms. Malkin claims to base her conclusions about the late Mr. Robinson, and his impact on his daughter's career, on information in a biography of the First Lady by Washington Post writer Liz Mundy:

Washington Post writer Liza Mundy called him "an essential member of the powerful political machine run by [Richard J.] Daley, who, in addition to being mayor, was the chairman of the Cook County Democratic Central Committee, meaning he controlled both the government and the political party, and could use one to do the other's bidding." Former alderman Leon Despres bluntly told Mundy that it was "overwhelmingly likely" that Robinson's job at the city water department was a reward for his loyalty. "The water department, where Fraser Robinson worked, was a renowned repository of patronage jobs."

Why such little scrutiny of Michelle the Merciless (or "That Other Michelle," as she's known in my house) and her crony-aided rise to power? Like her husband, Mrs. Obama is quick to play the victim card when her ill-considered statements and her dealings come under scrutiny. I don't call her President Obama's bitter half for nothing.

However, as the Media Matters analysis demonstrates, her father's need to participate in the system was an contributory factor in her skepticism about politics:

Her dad and her community may well explain her own grounded and hard-working nature, as well as her commitment to her children, but Chicago in the 1960s was almost certainly the source of her oft-expressed skepticism about politics. It was not only a racist and highly segregated city, but one with a complex and ambiguous political system, a system that Fraser Robinson participated in, either because he enjoyed politics or because it was one of the few paths open to an ambitious black man. [Michelle: A Biography, Page 23]

In fact, Ms. Malkin's accusation that Mr. Robinson's participation in the "corruptocracy" is a stain which then transferred to Michelle Obama, is really just a "blame the victim" approach which fails to understand the situation of the rank-and-file workers.

People who underperformed in their political work were susceptible to being "vised," or summarily fired. That was politics in Chicago. "Some of [Michelle's] subconscious -- some of her disdain as to politics could have to do with how [her father] was treated, and what he had to go through," says Al Kindle, a political consultant who grew up on the South Side.

And that, Kindle says, is why the black community was ambivalent about patronage and about Daley: the Machine lifted you up -- got you services and perks -- at the same time that it kept you down. "It was clear that you didn't get access to certain services unless you were a friend to the power structure. That spigot could be cut off. As a young African American with a family, you had to think about that with a jaundiced eye. Just as it helped you, it restricted your choice." So it could be that Robinson's son and daughter developed a dislike for politics even as they developed a deep, deep love for him. "We as a family were extremely cynical about politics and politicians" is how Craig [Robinson, Michelle Obama's brother] puts it. That started to change when they met Barack, whose political career was pushed in part by a coalition of people who had grown up in opposition to Daley and whose goal was breaking the Machine. [Michelle: A Biography, Pages 30-31]

Finally, as pointed out by Media Matters,

Citing Mundy's book in attacking Fraser Robinson, Malkin ignored Mundy's reporting that Robinson worked every day for decades despite being "crippled by multiple sclerosis." ... Mundy added that Michelle and Craig "describe what an inspiration it was to both of them, seeing Fraser Robinson get up to go to work every day, something that became increasingly difficult after his disease set in. Despite the fact that he needed a cane -- and, later, crutches and eventually a motorized cart -- he never stopped working." [Michelle: A Biography, Page 30]

Now, what makes this a "tale of two fathers" is the fact that, while Michelle Obama speaks proudly of her father, who she describes as literally having "died on his way to work", Ms. Malkin is less likely to mention her own father, or for that matter her mother's background.

A while back, when looking at Ms. Malkin's unique role in our national discourses on race, religion and immigration, I noticed something that I found odd. The "About" page on her website used to describe her as a child of immigrants.

Malkin, the daughter of Filipino immigrants, was born in Philadelphia, Pa. in 1970 and raised in southern New Jersey.

An archived version (via the "Wayback Machine" at archive.org) is at this link. And this is how she describes herself today -

I’m a Philly-born, South Jersey-raised alumna of Holy Spirit HS and Oberlin College.

As a matter of fact, she didn't even mention her physician father from the Phillipines when she decided to comment on a kerfuffle involving a character on the program "Desparate Housewives" who says to her doctor, "Can I just check those diplomas because I just want to make sure that they are not from some med school in the Philippines."

So, to recap. Michelle Obama speaks proudly of her father, which is distorted by Ms. Malkin into a description of a corrupt participant in the Chicago machine. As for Michelle Malkin, any mention of her immigrant father (with pride or not) appears to be "inconvenient" for her nowadays.

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