Barack Obama: First Pacific President? Not exactly.

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Singapore

This phrase, “first Pacific president,” is everywhere here among President Obama’s senior staff. In Tokyo yesterday, Obama used it himself:

As America’s first Pacific President, I promise you that this Pacific nation will strengthen and sustain our leadership in this vitally important part of the world.

It is another feather, the White House seems to suggest, in the identity politics cap that this president wears–the first African American president, first president with a Muslim father, now the first “Pacific President,” having been born in Hawaii and lived as a child in Indonesia.  (White House speechwriter Jon Favreau uses the phrase here.)

But is this first Pacific president thing true? As a native of California, I feel I am obligated to object.

I  was born and raised just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean. Does that not count? And if it counts for me, what should we say about two of our recent presidents–Ronald Reagan (born in Illinois, but came of age in Hollywood, becoming Governor of the Pacific state of California) or Richard Nixon (born in Yorba Linda, California, just a few miles from Newport Beach, served in the Pacific theater in World War II, represented California in the House and Senate.)

It seems awkward for Obama to claim that the United States and Asia are “bound” by the Pacific Ocean, but those born on the U.S. side of that bind do not count as “Pacific” people. But then I guess “first Pacific president” sounds better than “me and Richard Nixon are two Pacific presidents.”

ALSO: My story on Obama’s visit to Japan is posted here.

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