THE PLANK AUGUST 28, 2008
Uncle Charlie, Mama Biden, Beau Biden, Malia Obama, and yes, "my friend, John McCain." The dramatis personae grows and with it, that of the protagonists, Barack and Joe, Michelle and Jill. And look who's part of it? Bill, Hill, and Chel, whom we've "known" for years. Plus John Lewis of Georgia, Bill Ayres of Hyde Park, and, like Hamlet's ghost, Martin (once Michael) King of Georgia and Lyndon Johnson who, age 21, taught Mexican-American kids in Cotulla, Texas, and prepared himself to give the great address on civil rights that caused Martin Luther King, in a distant motel room, to weep.
We "don't know" Obama? Hell, we know him and his running mate better than we know some of our uncles--and maybe, in a way, ourselves. We know them almost as well as we know the characters in a good novel, Mann's Buddenbrooks, say, so maybe we should call this piece Bidenbrooks.
Buddenbrooks, though, was subtitled "The Decline of a Family," and all the biographies we take in though newspapers and television are about The Rise of a Family, or, at least, The Rise of the Protagonists.
The convention talks and "videos" (some made--gratis--by Stephen Spielberg and starring--gratis again--Tom Hanks) have the great American, if not international, arc: Triumph after Disaster. The other arc, Triumph to Disaster, is the story of the opponents: the Republicans from 2000 to 2008, John McCain from his heroic days as captive of the Vietnamese in 1965 to John McCain, the captive of the Republican Right Wing in 2008.
The convention stories roused tears and smiles. When Beau Biden, Delaware's attorney general, weeks shy of National Guard duty in Iraq, described the catastrophic death of his mother and sister, the hospitalization of his brother, Hunter, and himself, the nightly Amtrak trips of his father Joe to their hospital beds, and the paternal constancy that shaped his life, Michelle Obama was not the only one in the Denver auditorium who was blotting tears.
When John Kerry, himself the victim, four years earlier, of an ugly fiction, evoked Barack's Uncle Charlie, who enlisted in the army the day after Pearl Harbor, and then waved Uncle Charlie to his feet, or when Joe Biden waved another white-haired elder, his mother, to hers, the audience in the auditorium and, by television, across the world felt the depth and rootage of the goodness and bravery that could, once again, lead the country to accustomed glory.
Thomas, Antonie and little Hanno Buddenbrooks fell into one disaster after another and the great Buddenbrooks family of Luebeck, Germany, began falling into the abyss of economic oblivion and artistic immortality. But Joe Biden and Barack Obama were on the ladder of political eminence which, in the Oval Office and the Executive Office Building, would rescue their country from such an abyss and achieve the immortality of history.