Confessions of a ‘Half-Breed Mongrel’: A plea to the president

Barack Obama is a Half-Breed Mongrel. But I mean that in a good way.

I’m also a Half-Breed Mongrel — Jewish-Samoan to be exact, with some Tongan thrown in to make it interesting. In fact, I invented the term Half-Breed Mongrel (not that anyone seems to want to steal credit from me). I coined the term not as an expression of self-loathing, but as my affectionately un-PC way to describe the growing army of people whose parents didn’t have the discipline to breed with their own kind. Some of us were created this way by accident, and some by design — as if part of some scientific experiment to mutate the human species. But however we were created, we’re all here, an odd assortment of folks with incongruous features and split personalities who don’t quite fit in.

Ever since I was the boy with the biggest lips in Hebrew school, I’ve searched for comforting affirmation that what sets me and my fellow mongrels apart is what makes us special. And I convinced myself that we mongrels were put on Earth for a reason: to help bridge the differences between people of different cultures and different perspectives.

Half-Breed Mongrels, or HBMs, are constantly faced with riddles of cultural reconciliation. Had I been born a few centuries ago, I might have had to reconcile the occasional cannibalism in Samoa with the Talmud’s frustrating silence on whether human flesh is kosher.

Even in this day and age, many purebreds manage to go through life forming close associations only with their own kind. HBMs, on the other hand, are more likely to come into close personal contact with a multitude of people from a wide variety of backgrounds. Tiger Woods is the quintessential HBM in that regard.

HBMs are forced to see the world from at least two perspectives. We therefore have an innate understanding that there is usually more than one valid way of looking at most issues. That’s a fundamental first step to accepting other people and finding common ground with them. That doesn’t mean that HBMs are all wishy-washy moral relativists incapable of saying that anything is better than anything else. It simply means that we don’t start out of the box with the rigidity of thinking that might afflict some of our non-HBM friends. In fact, that’s why I think HBMs tend to be good at thinking “outside of the box.”

The election of Barack Obama as president signified that HBMs are really starting to come into their own. I did not support Obama, since my views on public policy differ greatly from his. Still, I felt a strong personal identification with him. I saw a weird symmetry to our implausible “fish-out-of-water” upbringings: He was a half-black kid being raised by his mom in Polynesia (Hawaii); I was a half-Polynesian kid being raised by my mom in an African-American neighborhood in Washington, D.C.

In the HBM world, Obama’s black-white mix is fairly vanilla. Not to pat myself on the back, but Samoan-Jewish by contrast shows a great deal of creativity. But the specific ingredients in Obama’s mix were never important to me; what was important was that he was mixed. I was convinced that Obama’s HBM background would enable him to work productively with the opposition party — my party — in spite of our healthy differences of opinion. At least that was my theory at the dawn of the Obama Era.

It’s over two years later now and my theory, like the stimulus, didn’t exactly work. Even at the start of Obama’s presidency, I noticed a disappointing lack of graciousness towards his predecessor, George W. Bush — including a compulsive habit of passing the buck backwards. He was also frequently dismissive of Republicans’ ideas and even impugned their motives. As a Republican, I felt my president not only disagreed with me (no problem), but disrespected me (problem). While hyper-partisanship might be par for the course in Washington, I didn’t want to believe that the first HBM president would behave that way. That’s not him talking, I would tell myself; that’s his teleprompter.