The Dad Next Door

WASHINGTON -- He was the dad next door.

Even as President Obama's job approval numbers sank last year, Americans said they liked him personally, in part because he was so devoted to his family.

It was that unassuming role -- father and husband -- which enabled Obama to turn his Tucson speech into a memorable moment of healing and hope.

One speech does not a presidency make. The economy and policy arguments are paramount. But the president connected directly to people in a way he has long hoped to do, but not often been able to do as president: as a neighbor and friend.

Obama's gift is his ability to turn his biography into American metaphor. In the past, he did so to inspire and focus the desire for political change -- and to successfully offer himself as the embodiment of it. The message of the 2008 campaign was one of crusading youth.

The message of Tucson in 2011 was something very different.

His hair turning gray before our eyes, approaching his 50th birthday, the president spoke most convincingly -- and emotionally -- as a father who had seen much, perhaps too much, but remained optimistic about the country and his children's generation.

It was not lost on him, and presumably not lost on anyone else, that the engaging child he eulogized, 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, was almost exactly the same age as his daughter Sasha.

His descriptions of the loving lives of the long married couples killed or injured in the attack were personally evocative, too. In the past, he has talked in the same affectionate terms about the sacrifices and stoicism of his maternal grandparents in Hawaii.

I have reported on the Obamas since 2006. I don't claim to know them well. But I know plenty of people who do, and I know that they are fiercely devoted to each other, to their children and their family.

So are most Americans. Which is the point. In Tucson, the president did what he had to do by being nothing more or less than one of us.

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