The All-American Family Crisis

Even in American politics, family trumps everything.

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Really? To the contrary, this unexpected turn may end up solidifying Obama’s connection to voters because his personal tragedy is a universal one. It is certainly an American one, as the country’s population ages and stressed out middle-aged citizens find themselves struggling to deal with both the demands of their own jobs and the families they are raising, but also the failing health of the loved ones who raised them.


There’s practically no one in this country who has not or will not, sooner or later, be forced to confront the illness of a relative or loved one. It is a human rite of passage. What Obama faces today strongly reinforces a sense of kinship with the American people. Confronting his own personal agony, and entirely at the hand of fate, Obama has connected with Americans on the matter of health care for aging relatives, the prospect of caring for someone who was once a caregiver and the ways in which the unexpected often trumps the best-laid plans.


Obama’s response to this blow mirrors that of all Americans confronting a relative’s imminent mortality: When things go south, you drop what you’re doing and take care of business. Period. That response underscores the humanistic aspect of his personal narrative, and how it dovetails with that of millions of Americans. No matter what your party is, no matter your affiliation, you can relate to this. Or you will someday.


Setting aside his trajectory into the political life of the nation, his soaring oratory, his rapport with the crowd, his almost preternatural calm on the frenzied campaign trail, what the country is witnessing now from Barack Obama may well be his most moving communion with the American people.

In ways the pundits don’t fully grasp yet, and more than at any other time in this long campaign, Barack Obama is us. Not the African-American us. The American us.


Michael E. Ross is a West Coast journalist who blogs frequently on politics, pop culture and race matters at; and is a periodic contributor to PopMatters and The Loop. His writing has appeared in, Entertainment Weekly and The New York Times.