Tuesday, October 27, 2009

19. The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

It took a long time for Barack Obama to show up on my radar. I didn't pay too much attention to the 2004 presidential campaigns, feeling pretty safe in my assumption that the Democrats would regain control of the White House. As it turns out, just because everyone you talk about these things with is liberal doesn't mean that the majority of the country is. Lesson learned. So I didn't see Obama's keynote speech at the convention, and didn't hear the phrase "the audacity of hope" until years later. I had hoped to vote for John Edwards in 2008, his family and their background having appealed to me since the previous election cycle. When it came down to Obama or Hillary Clinton, I didn't really care anymore. I knew that I would be voting Democrat regardless of the candidate chosen in the end. So it wasn't really until the convention in Denver and following months leading up to Election Day that I started to pay attention to Obama and really care about the potential for his presidency. The Audacity of Hope has been on my mom's bookshelf since then, and I finally decided to borrow it.

In The Audacity of Hope, Obama identifies the problems that he sees Americans facing and offers his take on how to approach said problems to alleviate or eliminate their negative consequences. He basically uses the book as a platform on which to explain what kind of president he will be. As Gary Hart, a former presidential nominee himself, put it in a New York Times review, "In a more perfect world, a graduate program complete with a doctoral thesis might be required of all those seeking the presidency. In certain ways, 'The Audacity of Hope' qualifies as Senator Barack Obama's thesis submission." A recurring theme is the current polarization of liberals and conservatives. He looks to recent political history and the nature of the media and special interest groups to explain the divisive nature of politics today, taking the time to differentiate between "politics" and "government." Emphasis on values that are common to all Americans and a renewed focus on the American Constitution are offered as possible common ground for liberals and conservatives to move forward on together. Obama also provides thoughts on the role of opportunity, race, faith and family in politics; mixing personal anecdotes with historical context and proposed government policy.

I don't want to say that Obama's writing isn't accessible, because it is... and isn't. Like most people, he's best when writing about his life and using personal stories to illustrate a point. I sympathize with his wife Michelle when he writes about her bearing the brunt of running their household while he's away working. I love his mother for instilling in him such a strong sense of empathy. He's self-deprecating to a fault, which is a very attractive trait to me. But this is not a straight autobiography. Obama is writing about serious issues, examining them from all sides and providing thorough background information. This is where I begin to feel like I can't keep up. While I think that I am among the intended audience for the book, the aim is a bit high. I think that Obama is so passionate about the issues and his ideas that he gets a bit wrapped up in writing about them. I can easily imagine him debating said matters with friends and colleagues for hours. When left to his own devices, Obama seems to be writing for that audience, rather than the general public. I was a bit surprised by this, expecting something more accessible because of Obama's excellent speaking skills. I suppose that he has people to reign in him for speeches and remind him who the audience is.

Regardless of one's political leanings or views on Obama's performance as President thus far, I think most readers will come away from reading the book with some measure of admiration for him. He comes across as a very thoughtful person, one that carefully considers all sides of an issue. He's a bit idealistic, but is that a bad thing? We should all be a little idealistic, I think. He feels compelled to roll up his sleeves and put in the hard work to fix that which is broken. He genuinely wants to help. It also seems that he sincerely enjoys meeting people and is invested in hearing their stories; relating them back to his own in order to understand them better. It's probably starting to sound like I drank the kool-aid, but I swear I didn't. All of the traits that I just mentioned happen to be important to me and it's comforting to see them in our president regardless of his flaws, of which I'm sure there are many.


ReNae said...

I was pretty happy to find your site until I read this. I couldn't possibly disagree with you more, and now I suspect all of your other reviews.

Magnolia said...

Sorry to disappoint. Feel free to come back, but I stand by this post so you may not enjoy many of my future posts.