09/26/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama Should Celebrate the Women Who Raised Him

When Obama gave his speech last March in Philadelphia to counter the endless replaying of his then-pastor's rants -- the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. turning "God Bless America" into "God Damn America," blaming the US for the 9/11 attacks and its government for "inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color" -- Obama offered up an observation about his grandmother, Madelyn Payne Dunham.

He said that he could no more "disown" his pastor than he could disown "my white grandmother -- a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me." That woman, he added, "once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and ...on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe."

That statement struck some as ungrateful or ungracious, and the phrase "threw his grandmother under the bus" became the cliché du jour. She had, after all, played a pivotal part in raising him, stepping into the breach of the boy's almost permanently absent Kenyan father and his occasionally absent Kansan mother, Ann Dunham Obama. (She died of cancer in 1995 at age 52; she was 18 when Obama was born.)

Now, in an intriguing Newsweek biographical cover story on Obama, "On His Own.....The making of a self-reliant man," Obama seems to do it again, "At some level I had to raise myself," he told Jon Meacham. (Attached to this comment is a tribute to his mother, and, to a lesser degree, his stepfather and grandfather, but no nod to his grandmother.)

Obama certainly did not take the easy or smart political route here. He could have celebrated his maternal half, especially the extraordinary grandmother, who is still alive at age 85 and living in Hawaii. That would have appealed to older women who may be inching toward his camp but are not yet comfortable walking in.


I emailed two women who had worked hard for Hillary, her personal friend and fundraiser Susie Tompkins Buell, and Simone DuBois, who videotaped Hillary recently in California as she seemed to encourage her supporters to develop a "strategy" to put her name into a roll call as a means of "catharsis."

Here are their responses to Obama's choice of Joe Biden as his running mate.

Simone DuBois: "I am absolutely thrilled it's NOT Hillary --- we were celebrating last night !!!....I think this pick screams "I have NO idea what I am doing - so let me pick someone with experience....We are calling Obama "Burnt Toast" -- it's so over !!! Who knows -- Hillary could still get the nomination."

Susie Tompkins Buell: "It is very hard to believe that she was not considered. If the shoe was on the other foot, there would be a blood bath. Scary times coming....."