The Spectacle Blog

Obama Lies on Dying (?)

By on 10.22.08 | 6:20PM

I really hesitate to bring this up. This is a very touchy subject. I noticed the following discrepancy during Obama's nomination acceptance speech in Denver, and have sat on it all this time. I now write on it advisedly, in light of thew new story about Obama's ill grandmother, to say that the questions I ask ought to be raised by somebody, but only if they are raised sensitively, respectfully, and not as a "gotcha" but as a legitimate question of Obama's truthfulness that ought to be raised, answered, and then (one hopes) disposed of, with an adequate answer, without being made subject to campaign frothing at the mouth. But IF what appears to be a lie is indeed a lie, then somebody "neutral" -- such as the Washington Post -- should mildly note it for the public record.

From a new report from CBS, about why Obama is rushing off to see his ailing grandmother, see this: Obama didn’t get to his mother before she died.  “Yeah, got there too late,” he says.  “You know, I mean, it was sort of like this, in the sense that she had a terminal illness.  We knew she wasn't doing well, but you know, the diagnosis was such that we thought we had a little more time and we didn't.  And so I want to make sure that I don't make the same mistake twice.”

This is perfectly understandable, and laudable, human emotion. Not that it matters what I think, but I think Obama merits praise for visiting his ill grandmother in the midst of the campaign, and I think he is doing it in a dignified fashion. My sympathies go to him and my sympathies and best wishes to his grandmother.

But, in light of the fact that Obama was not around, indeed was not even close, to his mother (geographically) as she lay dying, how then could he possible make this claim that he made in his convention speech?: "As someone who watched my mother argue with insurance companies while she lay in bed dying of cancer, I will make sure...."

He used the line about his dying mother as a way to humanize, but also to create political sympathy for, his call for more government involvement in the health care system and for his habit of demonizing the insurance companies. Unfortunately, it begins to look like nothing so much as Al Gore's utterly false claim that he promised his dying sister to fight the tobacco companies forever. (Remember that Gore was NOT anywhere near his sister when she died, and he CAMPAIGNED, AFTER she died, by bragging about having harvested tobacco himself, and he had a fairly pro-tobacco legislative record until several years after his sister's death. In other words, he made up the sob story for political effect, and used his dead sister as a prop. It was despicable.)

Let's review the Obama thing. He himself acknowledges that he was not with his mother before she died. So he did not "watch" her "while she lay in bed dying."

Okay, fine. Maybe he was with her as she argued with insurance companies in the months before she died. Maybe he just sort of telescoped the time frame for ease of telling the story -- hardly a terrible sin. If the story is true that she argued with insurance companies as she lay dying and that he watched her as she did, it would hardly matter if it was two days before or five months before: The point of insurance company perfidy would be the same and the story would be in most essentials true.

But here's what the Washington Post reported about it in the weekend BEFORE the Demo convention: He was into his Chicago phase, reshaping himself for his political future, but now was drawn back to Hawaii to say goodbye to his mother. Too late, as it turned out. She died on Nov. 7, 1995, before he could get there.

Ann had returned to Honolulu early that year, a few months before "Dreams From My Father" was published. She was weakened from a cancer that had been misdiagnosed in Indonesia as indigestion. American doctors first thought it was ovarian cancer, but an examination at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York determined that it was uterine cancer that had spread to her ovaries....

[Sister] Maya was in New York, about to start graduate school at New York University, when her mother got sick. She and her brother were equally slow to realize that the disease was advancing so rapidly. Maya had seen Ann during that visit to Sloan-Kettering, and "she didn't look well. She was in a wheelchair . . ..... by November her condition had worsened. She was put on morphine to ease the pain and moved from her apartment to the Straub Clinic. One night she called Maya and said she was scared. "And my last words to her, where she was able to respond, were that I was coming. I arrived on the seventh. My grandmother was there and had been there for some time, so I sent her home and talked to Mom and touched her and hugged her, and she was not able to respond. I read her a story -- a book of Creole folk tales that I had with me about renewal and rebirth -- and I said it was okay with me if she decided to go ahead, that I couldn't really bear to see her like that. And she died. It was about 11 that night."

Barack came the next day. ....

Look at that again. Obama was in Chicago. His mother went to New York. He did not appear to visit her there. Then she went to Hawaii. He DEFINITELY did not visit her there. So how, pray tell, did he "watched my mother argue with insurance companies while she lay in bed dying of cancer"?

Poor man, he never saw her as she lay dying -- or so it appears. It must have been a terrible trauma. I say this in all seriousness. He cared enough to fly to Hawaii when it became clear just how badly sick she was, and he got there just too late. That's a nightmare. The regret would certainly be lasting. Nobody should ever question his real, human feelings about that loss or about his inability to properly "say goodbye." That is NOT what this is about.

But when was it that she argued with insurance companies? Why use that example in his speech? If it wasn't true, then it was a cheap trick to play on people's emotions by using his mother as a prop. And THAT is worth having somebody in the establishment media bring up.

All of this can be cleared up. Maybe Obama made a quick visit to New York from Chicago, and maybe his mother was arguing with insurance companies even then. But the Post story makes a point of noting that MAYA had seen her mother at Sloan-Kettering, as if Obama didn't. But maybe he did. It is clear that it was JUST a short stay at Sloan Kettering, though -- that she wasn't there long at all, and that Obama was based in Chicago then. She spent most of her time with cancer back in Hawaii.

This was a human tragedy, like the ones millions of families suffer through each year. It breaks my heart. But why did Obama feel a need to use it for political effect -- unless, somehow, it was actually true?

If, and I repeat "if and only if" there is no good explanation, then it is a mark, another mark, of a character deficiency, just as it was with Al Gore, for Obama to have made up the story about his mother just to score a cheap political point. Handled sensitively, it is a legitimate question to ask.

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