We'd never heard of Madelyn Dunham, Barack Obama's white grandmother, before March 18, 2008 until she was invoked in Obama's race speech in Philadelphia as a way to defend a 20 year friendship 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 on national television 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 there's a reaction in her that doesn't go away and it comes out in the wrong way.
Aside from 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 heard about Dunham more recently within the context of the current health care debate. In an April 2009 New York Times interview, President Obama was discussing end-of-life care when we hear his grandmother invoked again.
…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….
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?" Obama replied, "I don't think that we can make judgments on people's spirit..." but that "maybe you're better off not having the surgery but taking the pain killer." In other words, we're saving money on the backs of the elderly and terminally ill patients.
Grandma was brought up once again in Colorado just last week,
What you can't do... is start saying things like, we want to set up death panels to pull the plug on grandma… 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.
Awww. Now we're all supposed to feel bad for Obama. He lost his grandmother, how dare anyone criticize his health care plan. 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. By making it personal, he’s closed the discussion.
Madelyn Dunham has become the all-purpose excuse for anything that Obama needs a pass on. He needed a way out of his predicament with Reverend Wright. He needed a pass through the health care debate and the hard questions 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.