1961. Honolulu. Barack Obama, a young college student from Kenya, is under scrutiny by immigration officials, who suspect the 24-year-old is married to a woman in Kenya and a pregnant 18-year-old in Hawaii at the same time. They're also concerned about his "playboy ways" and may be looking for a reason to kick him out of the country. Obama reassures an INS agent that he divorced his Kenyan wife and plans on putting his future child up for adoption:
“Subject got his USC [United States Citizen] wife ‘Hapai’ [Hawaiian for pregnant] and although they were married they do not live together and Miss Dunham is making arrangements with the Salvation Army to give the baby away,” according to a memo describing the conversation with Obama written by Lyle H. Dahling, an administrator in the Honolulu office of what was then called the US Immigration and Naturalization Service.
That baby, as we know now, became the 44th president of the United States. The memo was discovered by Boston Globe writer Sally Jacobs, whose book on President Obama's father comes out next week. Former press secretary Robert Gibbs told Jacobs that Obama had never heard anything about being put up for adoption, and family members say President Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, never talked about such a possibility. Gibbs suspects that Obama the Elder was merely trying to tell the INS what they wanted to hear:
“He was trying to convince immigration to let him stay. So, part of his effort was to convince immigration that some of the responsibilities that he had he would not continue to have.”
That could very well be. And it's kind of moot, since, obviously, Obama wasn't put up for adoption, and both of his parents are dead. But what if he had been given away? This private family decision in 1961 would have changed the course of world history:
Barack Obama the Younger is raised by a different family, learns different values, makes different friends, and is shaped into a completely different person by a million other environmental factors. He graduates from a local college and becomes a middle-school social-studies teacher, like his alternate-universe mother, and enjoys hiking in his spare time. He makes the local news once after saving an injured rare bird he encountered on a trail.
Illinois state comptroller Dan Hynes wins the Democratic Senate primary in 2004 and goes on to defeat Republican Alan Keyes in a landslide in the general election. Hynes remains in the seat to this day, never giving Rod Blagojevich a "fucking golden" opportunity to sell it. Roland Burris remains unknown outside of Illinois.
Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm is chosen to deliver the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, which is warmly received and soon forgotten by history.
Hillary Clinton battles it out with John Edwards for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008, with Clinton eventually pulling ahead and winning the nod after Edwards drops out under intense media scrutiny of his relationship with Rielle Hunter. She goes on to easily trounce John McCain in the general election.
Clinton stocks her administration with familiar names from her husband's presidency, so ... that part is the same.
The rest is pretty much impossible to speculate. What would have happened with health-care reform? The economic recovery? The 2010 midterms? Bo Obama? We're not even going to try. But please feel free to do so in the comments.