5 Things You Didn’t Know About Barack Obama

Four debates and countless campaign stops later, voters have learned much about their candidates' positions, policies, and personalities. Or have they?

By Caitlin O'Connell

He learned not to sling mud from ...his mom.

Although he was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Barack Obama spent four years of his childhood in Indonesia. His mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, instilled in her young son a deep sense of respect, a particularly important value in Indonesian culture. Obama's sister opened up on this period of their lives for a New York Times story, and describes how even as children they adopted this Indonesian custom: "We were not permitted to be rude, we were not permitted to be mean, we were not permitted to be arrogant. We had to have a certain humility and broad-mindedness." 

Photo credit: Pete Souza/Wikimedia Commons

His parents predicted his presidency.

Obama's mother always realized her son's potential, and told a friend from Hawaii she believed he could be president of the United States. One of Obama's teachers in Indonesia recounts a conversation between young Barry and his stepfather, Lolo. When Lolo asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, Obama responded, "Oh, prime minister."

Photo credit:
Pete Souza, The Obama-Biden Transition Project/Wikimedia Commons

He's a poet (and we didn't know it).

Journalist David Maraniss uncovered several of Obama's romantic correspondences for his book about the life of the President, Barack Obama: The Story. Obama's smooth words reveal the soft side of a young man in love. One such letter from 1983 to a one-time girlfriend, reported by Maraniss, describes New York City: "Moments trip gently along over here. Snow caps the bushes in unexpected ways, birds shoot and spin like balls of sound. My feet hum over the dry walks. A storm smoothes the sky, impounding the city lights, returning to us a dull yellow glow."

Photo credit: Pete Souza/Wikimedia Commons

Seinfeld, Suzanne Vega, and ...

Like most college students arriving in New York, Obama took up in a less-than-desirable apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side after transferring to Columbia University. To escape his living situation, where heat and hot water were in limited supply, Obama often went for breakfast with his roommate at Tom's Diner (the outside setting of Monk's, the Seinfeld characters' favorite meeting place).

Photo credit: Fogster/Wikimedia Commons

His students got a preview of his presidency.

Before he became the junior senator from Illinois, Obama taught for 12 years at the University of Chicago Law School, where he honed in his skills as a future politician. In the classroom he was easy-going, joking with students and interspersing movie references with case law. It wasn't until after Obama entered the political arena that his U. Chicago colleagues and students recognized themes of his campaign that had originated in the classroom.

Photo credit: Hiperpato/Wikimedia Commons

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