Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Family Life

When Barack Obama celebrates America's racial and cultural diversity, he speaks from a lifetime of personal experience. In The Audacity of Hope, he wrote: "As the child of a black man and a white woman, someone who was born in the racial melting pot of Hawaii, with a sister who's half-Indonesian but who's usually mistaken for Mexican or Puerto Rican, and a brother-in-law and niece of Chinese descent, with some blood relatives who resemble Margaret Thatcher and others who could pass for Bernie Mac, so that family get-togethers over Christmas take on the appearance of a UN General Assembly meeting, I've never had the option of restricting my loyalties on the basis of race, or measuring my worth on the basis of tribe."

Obama's wife, Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama, was born on January 17, 1964. Their first daughter, Malia Ann, was born on July 4, 1998, and their second daughter, Natasha, known as Sasha, was born on June 10, 2001. All three were born in Chicago and, until moving to Washington on January 5, 2009, two months after Barack Obama was elected President, they had spent almost their entire lives there. The Obamas chose to send their daughters to Sidwell Friends School, Sasha as a second-grader at the school's Bethesda, Maryland, elementary school campus and Malia as a fifth-grader at its middle school campus in Washington. The Obamas were accompanied to Washington by Michelle's mother, Marian Shields Robinson, whom they invited to live with them in the White House. Robinson is the only surviving parent of either Barack or Michelle Obama. Other close family members include Michelle Obama's brother, Craig Robinson, and Barack Obama's half-sister Maya Soetoro Ng. Ng was born in 1970 in Indonesia, the daughter of Obama's mother and her second husband, Lolo Soetoro.

Growing up, Barack Obama's family influenced his values in ways that later shaped his political philosophy. "Empathy .?.?. is at the heart of my moral code .?.?. ," he wrote in The Audacity of Hope, "a call to stand in somebody else's shoes and see through their eyes. Like most of my values, I learned about empathy from my mother." As a result, Obama is "angry about policies that consistently favor the wealthy and powerful over average Americans, and insist[s] that government has an important role in opening up opportunity to all."

Proud Democrat that he is, however, Obama is critical of his party's reflexive liberalism. "In reaction to a war that is ill-conceived," he wrote, "we appear suspicious of all military action. In reaction to those who claim the market can cure all ills, we resist efforts to use market principles to attack pressing problems. In reaction to religious overreach, we equate tolerance with secularism." Interestingly, in The Audacity of Hope, the figures he praised most, except for Franklin D. Roosevelt, were Republican icons: Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan, not Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, or Bill Clinton.