We'd never heard of Madelyn Dunham, Barack Obama's white grandmother, before March 18, 2008 until she was invoked in Obama's speech on race in Philadelphia as a way to defend a 20 year association with his pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother -- a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.
Insert collective gasp. He admits that this woman sacrificed for him and raised him, but then goes on to broadcast to the whole of the United States the fears that she privately confided in him. Where is his sense of decency? But wait, there's more! In a follow-up radio interview Obama tries to clarify his remarks:
The point I was making was not that my grandmother harbors any racial animosity, but that she is a typical white person. If she sees somebody on the street that she doesn't know (pause) there's a reaction in her that doesn't go away and it comes out in the wrong way.
Besides for the audacity of claiming that all whites are racists, what's fascinating here is that we don't actually know her views on other ethnic groups at all. We're taking his word for all of her insecurities since his campaign never made her available for comment. In fact, people who knew her were shocked by his remarks.
"I was real surprised that he indicated that," said Dennis Ching, who was a 23-year-old management trainee under Dunham beginning in 1966. "I never heard her say anything like that. I never heard her say anything negative about anything. And she never swore.
" I never heard Madelyn say anything disparaging about people of African ancestry or Asian ancestry or anybody's ancestry," Slom [Sam Slom, a Bank of Hawaii economist then, who is now a Republican state senator in Hawaii] said.
We recently again heard about Dunham more recently within the context of the health care debate currently raging. In an April 2009 New York Times interview President Obama was discussing end-of-life care when we hear his grandmother invoked again.
[The President:] Now, I actually think that the tougher issue around medical care — it’s a related one — is what you do around things like end-of-life care —
[Interviewer:] Yes, where it’s $20,000 for an extra week of life.
THE PRESIDENT: Exactly. And I just recently went through this. I mean, I’ve told this story, maybe not publicly, but when my grandmother got very ill during the campaign, she got cancer; it was determined to be terminal. And about two or three weeks after her diagnosis she fell, broke her hip. It was determined that she might have had a mild stroke, which is what had precipitated the fall.
So now she’s in the hospital, and the doctor says, Look, you’ve got about — maybe you have three months, maybe you have six months, maybe you have nine months to live. Because of the weakness of your heart, if you have an operation on your hip there are certain risks that — you know, your heart can’t take it. On the other hand, if you just sit there with your hip like this, you’re just going to waste away and your quality of life will be terrible.
And she elected to get the hip replacement and was fine for about two weeks after the hip replacement, and then suddenly just — you know, things fell apart.
I don’t know how much that hip replacement cost. I would have paid out of pocket for that hip replacement just because she’s my grandmother. Whether, sort of in the aggregate, society making those decisions to give my grandmother, or everybody else’s aging grandparents or parents, a hip replacement when they’re terminally ill is a sustainable model, is a very difficult question.
Is Obama saying here that it's too expensive to do surgery on "old people" if they'll only live a little while longer? What about Jane Sturm who asked about her mother who's now 105 who had a pacemaker put in five years ago? "Is there any consideration that can be given for a certain joy of living... or is it just a medical cutoff at a certain age?" According to Obama "I don't think that we can make judgements on people's spirit..." but that "maybe you're better off not having the surgery but taking the pain killer." The upshot being that we're saving money on the backs of the elderly or terminally ill patients.
Grandma's brought up once again in Colorado just last week,
What you can't do -- or you can, but you shouldn't do -- is start saying things like, we want to set up death panels to pull the plug on grandma. I mean, come on. (Applause.) I mean, I just -- first of all, when you make a comment like that -- I just lost my grandmother last year. I know what it's like to watch somebody you love, who's aging, deteriorate, and have to struggle with that. So the notion that somehow I ran for public office, or members of Congress are in this so that they can go around pulling the plug on grandma?
Awww. Now we're all supposed to feel bad for Obama. He lost his grandmother, how dare the Republicans criticize his health care plan in less than glowing terms. He's made it a personal attack. It's all about him rather than the end of life health care rationing that's certainly coming down the road if the plan is passed through Congress.
Madelyn Dunham has become the catch-all, all purpose, excuse for anything that Obama needs a pass on or an excuse for. He needed a way out of his predicament with Reverend Wright. He needed a pass through the health care debate and the hard questions being asked by ordinary Americans by calling upon the memory of his grandmother and what pain he went through when having to make decisions about her health.
I wonder what the next big crisis Obama will face in the future when we'll see his grandmother invoked once again to give him cover.