Is Barack Obama “descended from polygamists”?

Can anyone tell me what this means?

From now until November, President Obama and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney will emphasize their differences. But the two men’s lives actually coincide in a striking number of ways: Both attended Harvard. Both have been heavily influenced by their respective churches. Each descended from polygamists.

This is the preface for a piece by Ari Shapiro. I’m trying to ask Shapiro what is meant by this. Since it is preface text this is probably from an editor, but I would think it is in the piece somewhere (it is a multipart series).

Are we talking about his Kenyan background, and simply labeling Kenyans as Polygynous? Or are we talking about his generalized African background? Or the fact that he comes from an Abrahamic religion and all those people in the Old Testament were polygynous? Or what?

And if so, then why are we not comparing Romney to, say, Every other person running for office who has at some point in their background a society that does not enforce monogamy … because when you don’t enforce monogamy you get overt polygyny and occassionally polyandry (both forms of polygamy). (When you do enforce the monogamy you get way less, and not overt.)

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20 Responses to Is Barack Obama “descended from polygamists”?

  1. StevoR says:

    Hey, we all sprang from monkeys if you go far enough back in time. (Or, yeah, a common ancestor of monkeys, apes, heck reptiles, fish and tiktallik if you keep tracing backwards long enough!)

    Some of us just didn’t spring far enough! ;-)

    Think I read somewhere that almost everyone is related somewhere down the line and has ancestors they probably consider highly unsavoury if they but knew it.

    So? What?

  2. Tracey says:

    This is just more projection from the right wingnuts. Romney’s grandfather fled to Mexico to indulge himself in multiple wives, therefore they have to scream that Obama is a non-American and a polygamist.

  3. StevoR says:

    Hmmm …

    From now until November, President Obama and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney will emphasize their differences. But the two men’s lives actually coincide in a striking number of ways:

    Both men hate Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum …

    Both men entered politics and have done fairly well at that,

    Both men are married with kids,

    Both men have pet dogs,

    Both men are bipedal,

    Both men breathe oxygen … ?

    Yeah, I guess there certainly are some similarities! ;-)

  4. This reminds me of an apocryphal story where LBJ suggested to his campaign staff that they start a rumor that his opponent fucks goats.
    “But sir, we can’t do that, we all know he doesn’t”
    “Of course he doesn’t. But let’s watch the sonofabitch try to deny it”.

  5. Trebuchet says:

    It’s actually not unreasonable to believe that Obama’s presumably Muslim ancestors in Kenya included some polygamists. It’s also entirely irrelevant. I suppose that means I have to say it’s irrelevant for Romney, too.

  6. Greg Laden says:

    Trebuchet: As a quick note to those looking in, most Kenyans are not Muslims, so it is not presumptive. However, his father is said to have been raised as a Muslim but he himself was an atheist. His step father was just a plain old atheist. Unless I knew more about the family, I would not put much stock in that Muslim link, though, one way or another (not that it matters).

    Anyway, Romney was raised in religion that has an oddly polygynous history out of sync with most other American beginnings. That may or may not be worth mentioning. In Romney’s case, however, the polygyny may be more important than for other Mormons, as there is this Mexican cult link… Romney’s father is from a polygynous Mormon family, and that is important (to George’s history) because they were a breakaway group living in Mexico and so on and so fort. Obama’s ancestry as “polygynous” is pretty much the same as everyone elses as far as I know, but perhaps I’m missing some substantive historical fact. Does it matter to Romney? I’m not sure.

    SteveR: And they started their political career on milk!

  7. Aratina Cage says:

    Sins of the father for $1,000, Alex. This is as ridiculous as holding Dawkins accountable for his great-whatever grandfather’s slave-driving. The important thing is what the people themselves have done, and neither the president nor Mittens appear to have hurt or abandoned their spouses (according to Wikipedia) unlike most of the other contenders. And does polygamy even matter–is it anything other than a buzzword–when you have crackpots like Gingrich, Edwards, and McCain with their serial adultery competing for the office?

  8. kagekiri says:

    @Aratina Cage:

    Yeah, that’s exactly the comparison I was thinking of, that ridiculous Dawkins slaver attack.

    Of course, the Biblical God character punishes people for their ancestors’ mistakes all the time, even saying he’ll curse people’s great-grandkids and killing children and babies for being born to “evil” men every time he wipes out a city or commands genocide….so it’s just par for the course in a long list of horrible injustices carried out in the Bible.

  9. Greg Laden says:

    Aratina: when you have crackpots like Gingrich, Edwards, and McCain with their serial adultery competing for the office?

    I think Edwards rises to the standards of actual polygyny.

  10. cswella says:

    If Jesus was really descended from King David, and all accounts of David are accurate in the bible, then Jesus descended from polygamists as well.

  11. Tracey says:

    While Barack Obama appears to not have been raised with religion, Mittens has made it a point to highlight his own–one that is unfriendly to women in its most benign, horrifically abusive in its polygamous form. That’s what he was raised in.

  12. ottod says:

    There are still(LDS-derived) polygamist groups — cults, if you will — in Mexico, mostly co-located in northern Mexico in the area colonized by Mormons at the end of the 19th century. The group that included Romney’s ancestors should probably not be considered a cult, unless you just want to categorize the LDS church as a cult.

    The main group of Mormon colonists were those who thought they had a tacit dispensation to continue the practice of polygamy as well as those who accepted the church’s new position on polygamy but were unwilling to have long-established families broken up by U. S. laws. After about 1890 there were few “new” polygamists in the Mormon communities in Mexico, and as the children of the polygamists grew to adulthood, many migrated back to the U. S. and remained monogamous.

    The polygamous splinter groups that are truly cults formed by those who disagreed with the church’s new position on polygamy also found refuge in the wilds of northern Mexico and exist there today, protected largely by the same sort of isolation that allowed groups like the FLDS to maintain a presence on the Utah/Arizona border.

  13. Trebuchet says:

    There are still(LDS-derived) polygamist groups — cults, if you will — in Mexico, mostly co-located in northern Mexico in the area colonized by Mormons at the end of the 19th century.

    And in the USA and Canada, as well.

    The group that included Romney’s ancestors should probably not be considered a cult, unless you just want to categorize the LDS church as a cult.

    Sounds fair to me. I’m quite on board with categorizing the LDS church as a cult.

  14. Abdul Alhazred says:

    The president’s father had several wives, and was from a culture where that is normal.

    Ho hum.

  15. kyleharris says:

    As an ex-mormon, now atheist and humanist I descend from polygamy on both sides of my family. So what? For either side to make this an issue in a campaign is just outright stupid.

  16. Greg Laden says:

    unless you just want to categorize the LDS church as a cult.

    That is totally my backup plan.

    And since I first read this as “LSD” instead of “LDS” it really works.

  17. baal says:

    Conflate, lie, flip strengths and weakness, point your finger at the opponent for what you have done…etc. This winds up confusing the voters and it is the point. Up is down and left is sideways. Confused voters wind up voting randomly or effectively so i.e. 50%.

    Then, you have all the churches say vote republican (yeah i know illegal but hardly stops them) and then wholesale bus the congregation to the poling place (or have them walk down the stairs as the case may be). Throw in some illegal but also common voter caging, misdirecting robo-calls in minority districts (again illegal not that it stopped the (R) last pres election) and other related shenanigans (‘accidentally’ throwing democrats of the voter roles? hello Florida).

    All this gets you +1.

    Who now wins in this 50+1 world?

  18. ottod says:

    I’m not comfortable designating the LDS church a cult, unless the definition of cult is broad enough to include Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, etc. People say things like, “Mormonism is just weird!” I always think, “Compared to what?” Seems to me that if you’re willing to go along with immaculate conception, literal resurrection, healing by touch, and walking on water, nothing in Mormon belief should seem odd to you.

  19. Greg Laden says:

    To me, “cult” is a term used by the religions that get to define themselves as mainstream through previous power grabs, cultural movements, or demographic changes use to define some other groups as bad.

    A “cult” is “the other guys, when they are small in numbers*” … It is a term of oppression within the religious milieu. There is no valid definition that is not a tool of power.

    Therefore, I have no problem calling them all cults.

    __________________
    *except when they are really large in number.

  20. Trebuchet says:

    To me, “cult” is a term used by the religions that get to define themselves as mainstream through previous power grabs, cultural movements, or demographic changes use to define some other groups as bad.

    A “cult” is “the other guys, when they are small in numbers*” … It is a term of oppression within the religious milieu. There is no valid definition that is not a tool of power.

    Therefore, I have no problem calling them all cults.

    Correct. As it happens, I was just thinking about this while walking around behind the lawnmower.

    I’d say a cult becomes a “religion” when:
    a) it gets a little older;
    b) it gets a little larger; and
    c) it gains some acceptance in general society as a result of a and b.

    That said, the LDS shares some major characteristics with some of the generally accepted cults:
    Invented out of whole cloth by a self-described prophet? Check.
    Truly bizarre beliefs and practices, compared to “main-stream” faiths? Check.
    Extracts the maximum amount of cash from the faithful? Check.
    Exerts undue control over the lives of the members? Magic underwear, anyone?

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