It was around 8 am this morning, John Heilemann reports, that Barack Obama first learned of the passing of his grandmother, a longtime guardian central in his upbringing. The Democratic presidential nominee maintained his composure throughout the day, including during an enthusiastic speech in Jacksonville, Florida. But he could not contain all outward signs of grief tonight at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. After a break in a rain storm, Obama delivered a speech that, in part, eulogized his grandmother. It would be hard, in the attached video, to see that this remembrance moved the candidate to tears, but for some dabs of the cheek, so steady and familiar was the candidate's rhythm as he spoke.
Here is how Heileman described the scene from nearer the stage:
He calls her a "quiet hero" — like a lot of quiet heroes in the crowd, in the country...
As Obama says all this, his voice is mostly steady, but tears are streaming down his right cheek — the first public tears he has shed, as far as I know, in his time on the national stage. When he finishes, he reaches inside his pocket, pulls out a white handkerchief, wipes his eyes, then carries on with his speech, returning a few times to the woman who shaped his character as much as anyone in the world.
On a different day, in a different year, such meditations on the emotional life of a politician might seem treacly. Maybe to some they do, even now. But in the context of a historic election, and of a candidate who has earned a reputation for being unflappable, it is hard not to be moved.