Look at the picture above. It looks like just another picture of people from two unconnected races interacting in harmony. But in this case they are closely connected - that's President Obama playing with his small niece Savita in Martha's Vineyard in 2009. They both have identical mitochondria thanks to Ann Dunham, Obama's mother and Savita's grandmother (Obama's daughters have Michelle's mitochondria). Savita Ng is the daughter of Maya Soetoro, Obama's half-Indonesian sister and Konrad Ng, a Chinese-Malaysian Canadian. Maya is Buddhist and Savita is a Hindu/Buddhist name.
Asian-Americans tend to be invisible in American politics. They mainly live on the Pacific coast and Hawaii and in the entire 2012 Presidential election, they only got a mention after the results came in and it turned out that 73% of Asian-Americans had voted for Obama, more than the proportion of Latinos (whose support was at 71%). Asian-Americans were more instrumental in making Obama president than African-Americans - it was the shift in their voting patterns that determined the change from Dubya Bush to Obama - the African-American swing of a few percentage points towards Obama was not enough to determine the election - see the graph right.
This came as a shock to Republicans. After all, Asian-Americans are not in the bottom 47% that Romney was so disparaging about. What was going on?
Menzie Chinn writing in Businessweek thought it was down to unease amongst the Asian-American community over the Republicans anti-science stance. There arn't many educated people (and most Asian-Americans are educated) who believe that the earth formed 4000 years ago as do lots of Republicans.
A lot of the credit for Obama's success goes to the campaigning efforts of his sister Maya (who predictably was completely ignored by the mainstream press).
But a lot of credit goes to Obama himself. To him Asian-Americans are not invisible at all, they are family. He knows all about their issues, he hears about them every time he goes to Hawaii for Christmas with his sister, and every time she visits the White House with her family.
Even more important was his upbringing in Hawaii. Hawaii is a little piece of paradise in the middle of the Pacific. The climate is just right - warm but breezy and with none of the humidity that plagues Florida and other southern states. It's violent crime rate is the lowest of any of the states in the Union. It's also multi-cultural. The 2010 census showed that the population of Hawaii was 40% Asian, 23% Caucasian, 10% native Hawaiian, 9% Latino, 2% black and 24% mixed-race (the highest mixed group of anywhere in the USA). Barack and Maya were part of that 24% mixed race group.
Hawaii is racially integrated - in his book "Dreams of my Father" Obama wrote, "That my father looked nothing like the people around me—that he was black as pitch, my mother white as milk—barely registered in my mind." [my italics]. He never really experienced the discrimination that minority groups and especially African-Americans experience in mainland USA. Obama also spent four years from the age of 6 to 10 in Indonesia, before returning to Hawaii to live with his maternal grandparents Madelynn and Stanley Dunham.
Naturally his values were Hawaiian values, which were and are heavily influenced by the Asian-American population there. Get a good education and then get into academia. Which Obama did - he studied at Columbia University, then went to Harvard Law School and then became an academic himself, lecturing at the University of Chicago Law school for twelve years. The media likes to talk about his brief stint as a community organiser, but the main part of his employment before he went into politics was academia - not that different to his brother-in-law Konrad Ng, who is a lecturer at the University of Hawaii.
Given his intellectual bent and Pacific/Asian values, it is no wonder then that he found the "guns and religion" of the deep south of the USA so alien.
Many people have remarked that Obama has not made race an issue in his presidency. There is an authentic African-American voice in the White House, but it belongs to Michelle. She is descended from slaves and slave-owners, the product of 300 years of brutal discrimination, heartbreak and struggle, plus she is a personal exemplar of how you can experience discrimination in your youth and come out the other side. When Obama speaks of these things, he is channelling her, and no doubt she influences him because he loves her very much. But his values remain staunchly Pacific and post-racial.
By banging on about his skin colour and his "Kenyan" roots, Republicans were completely ignoring the realities of the man himself and the coalitions he was forging. Culture isn't based on skin-colour at all, but instead on geography, climate and the social environment you grow up in. And with Obama, this was the Pacific, which means he has more in common with Asian-Americans than any other group.
Brits and other Europeans have noted with anxiety that Obama is not really interested in Europe - he regards it as a rich region that can afford to take care of it's own problems. He's not really interested in the middle-east either, with it's fanatical religious problems. And he hasn't expressed any real interest in Africa (he seems to have satisfied his curiosity about his African roots with his one visit there as a young adult). South America doesn't get much attention either. His focus is on the Pacific, the place of his childhood.
In his view, the Pacific is where the power-struggles of the 21st century will be determined. I give you Barack Obama, the first Pacific President.