Toot: a very convenient grandmother
Grandma Dunham has played a key role for Obama. But she’s never been more valuable than now, says Charles Laurence
Could there be a more opportunistic use of a personal moment in American politics than having Barack Obama rush off to Hawaii to say what he fears will be his last goodbye to Grandma Dunham? For Madelyn Dunham, 85 and reported to be on her deathbed, is his mother's mother, his white grandmother.
Obama has made frequent use of the grandmother he once called Toot, the woman who, with her husband, took the young Barack in when he was abandoned by his Kenyan father and left at home by his feckless, globe-trotting mother Ann Dunham.
In a TV ad, he intoned that Grandma Dunham "taught me values straight from the Kansas heartland". In his speech accepting the nomination, he said: "She's the one who taught me about hard work." Under attack for going to church with the race-radical Rev Jeremiah Wright, he said: "I can no more disown him than my white grandmother."
Now, apparently dying, she is useful one more time. She will be at the emotional centre of the campaign as the nation watches its favoured candidate deal with the trauma of losing the woman who gave him love and stability as a boy, and who survived his own mother, who died of cancer in 1995.
The timing is perfect. As those crucial blue-collar, not-sure-about-black-folks voters make up their minds in the next few days, they will contemplate Obama and see a white woman whose life reflects their own.
Whatever access the photographers are allowed during the trip to Hawaii, the people's hearts will surely be drawn to an unmatchable testament to Obama's whiteness, and American votes follow hearts rather more than minds.
Obama is being as sharp and ruthless as ever. But then again, those are qualities he will need to succeed as president. ·
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