Obama compassionate during political autopilot

Gunnar Heinrich

There’s a kind of glaze that politicians develop when politicking. It’s a smiling yet strangely blank expression that’s similar to the gelatinous film that sugar coats a fruit tart. You look for registration in eye contact only to find that no one’s at the helm because the pilot’s on coffee break while the political machine is on autopilot. The glaze tells us that as voters we are solitary tiles that are only valued when fitted into the great electoral mosaic.

Standing in a receiving line to meet Bill Clinton at a Democratic campaign rally in Providence two Novembers ago, the former president managed to look at no one in particular while he worked the masses with both cold hands. It was only when a forty-something woman blushed at the presence that Clinton’s attention stirred into excited focus. Seizing an opportunity to play rock star, Clinton locked his eyes on hers, took the woman’s hand in his and kissed it.

At Hartford’s packed XL Center last Monday, Barack Obama wore a similar if somber glaze as he worked the line of wild supporters on his way to speak before thousands. Hand after hand was shook with the same clenched jaw. The hard campaign showed. And while the Obama machine was on hand shaking autopilot, the pilot inside seemed busy mulling the turbulent course ahead.

But for a moment, that weight lifted.

Armed with the most picture perfect baby, the woman next to me raised her infant to see Obama draw near. True to form of all cute babies, the toddler let out a squeal of delight which brought the consternated senator to absolute stop. With a compassionate tilt of his head, he took the one toothed wonder in his arms and put the attending press, the Kennedys, and the rest of Connecticut on hold. A long moment passed as a lighter Obama gave the fatherly benediction. Then, returning baby back to mother’s arms, the heavy fa