The All-American Family Crisis

Even in American politics, family trumps everything.

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

If there was ever any doubt about Sen. Barack Obama’s ability to connect with the American people, as his strategically brilliant campaign has shown he’s capable of doing, that doubt should soon be put to rest, in the wake of a personal tragedy now facing the Democratic nominee—the same tragedy faced by millions of Americans every day.


The campaign announced on Monday that Obama would be taking time away from the campaign this week to fly to Hawaii to attend to the health of his maternal grandmother, Madelyn Payne Dunham, said to be gravely ill as a result of a broken hip and other health problems, the nature of which are none of your business or mine. Obama is expected to return to the campaign full-time on Saturday, somewhere in the western United States.


The importance of Dunham in Obama’s life has been the stuff of many of his campaign rallies. It’s common knowledge that after attending schools in Jakarta, Indonesia, until he was 10 years old, Obama moved back to Honolulu to live with his maternal grandparents, Stanley and Madelyn Dunham, starting in the fifth grade and lasting until he graduated from high school. Obama has often credited Madelyn Dunham with giving him much of the motivation and the drive he needed to succeed—to in effect become the man he has become. “She poured everything she had into me,” he said at the Democratic National Convention in August.


So there was never any question about Barack going back to Hawaii. Family is family. Full damned stop. End of discussion.

At least you would think so. No sooner had the campaign made the announcement, the “the punditburo”—the D.C./N.Y. axis of campaign commentators, analysts and talking heads—weighed in with their somewhat clinical assessments of how Obama’s absence would affect that campaign with two weeks left until Election Day. Already there’s been dire, but silly talk about his momentum slowing, suggesting that this unexpected event could be the unintended October surprise, the deus ex machina desperately needed by Sen. John McCain.