The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (2006) by Barack Obama
Those are questions that plague my mind as I sit here eating my microwaved lasagna with my dog on my lap.
Okay, here goes: This is an autobiographical political manifesto which provides a great insight into the man who calls himself Barack Obama. But after all of those pages, I still don’t know who Barack Obama is.
Disclosure: Obama’s campaign team read this book and made suggestions before it was released. It was released to promote Obama. It truly is an opportunistic manifesto.
To me, it seems as if Obama’s mixed race, exposure to different cultures and countries, and unstable childhood led him to feel like an outsider for most of his life. In fact, even as a Junior Senator, he still feels like an outsider. He feels like he doesn’t belong, but uses this feeling to sympathize with everyone.
I also presume that Obama’s identity crisis enabled him to see multiple point of views and beliefs, have empathy with human suffering, and have such deep introspective and philosophical thoughts about the world and his place in it.
Obama criticizes both right, left, and center. He rips Republicans as well as Democrats, but also gives them props. Obama looks down upon labels (most of the book is about smashing labels), MEDIA spins, old politics, and racism. He praises racial and economic equality, multiculturalism, balancing different opinions, technology, and internationalism.
He seems himself as a progressive Democrat ready to take Bill Clinton’s policies to the next level. He doesn’t see himself as an extreme leftist liberal or even the label of “populist”. He is a human being, with all the contradictions and growth that implies.
Obama writes like the college professor (10 years teaching Constitutional Law) he was, and as the lawyer he is, too.
For example, Obama will cover all aspects of an issue, say, abortion. He believes that it is a personal choice, and that appointing Supreme Court judges to overturn Roe v. Wade is wrong because women would be forced to break the law and undergo unhealthy and dangerous abortions. Yet, Obama still does a great job defending the opposing point of view, and like many legal minded people he always has caveats, that-being-saids, howevers, and one-must-also-considers, so that it’s hard to say “Obama believes that…”
Since Obama is able to shrewdly cover all aspects of an issue, state his belief, yet still have the legal semantics and doublespeak on his side, it is very, very difficult to “get him” or corner him in an issue.
Obama readily admits and foresees future criticism, and tries his best to avoid being taken out of context. For example, when he shows reverence to Senator Byrd, he also mentions that Byrd was a member of the KKK. When Obama feels overwhelmed by the rich history of the Old Senate chambers, he also brings up slavery and segregation. Obama has great things to say about Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Abe Lincoln, FDR, and JFK, so all the bases are covered. (His historical interpretation of Reagan had the most second guessing of all these presidents.) Obama attacks Bush’s economic policies and reasons for going into Iraq, but also describes him as a down-to-earth person and said he can see the world through his eyes.
All of this makes a fool-proof manifesto, but also makes it a dry, frustrating, and laborious reading.
I can’t rip him for it because Obama already said it in the book: he describes how he and other Democrats appear weak and flip-floppy, and knows what a fake a politician looks in this day and age. That’s the thing- Obama says everything in this book that I mostly relate to and agree with, since he covers all arguments and theory.
There are some things he doesn’t apologize for: racial and economic inequalities. He truly believes in spreading the wealth. He has the support of Google and Warren Buffet.
Obama is everything and nothing, in each of us, and in none of us. His plans are global- he wants liberty and justice for all. How will he implement this? I don’t know.
His beliefs and arguments reminded me of the hours and hours of conversations Tony Vahl and I had years ago- about how to make the world a better place. Anyone under 40 or takes political science in college would fully appreciate and agree with Obama’s idealistic goals about society, and the government’s responsibility to make the world a better place. [Tony and I may have well-thought-out opinions and philosophies, but that doesn't qualify us to become president.]
As much as FOX News and Rush Limbaugh want to paint Obama as a communist or socialist, one would be hard pressed to truly find any in-context proof of that in this book. He’s outspoken against oppressive regimes, and doesn’t believe in an immediate pull-out in Iraq.
On religion: Obama claimed he finally saw the light at Rev. Wright’s church later in his life. But frankly, Obama wasn’t brought up with any religion, and he doesn’t vote with his religion as a guide, and I don’t believe he sees God everywhere. His mind has too much doubt and is too cynical. He has HOPE, yes…but not blind faith.
So..what can I say? Obama’s life has been, and continues to be a spiritual and intellectual journey. His loyalty to the U.S. is first, of course, but he also has loyalties to Indonesia and Kenya and the world’s citizens. I’m not used to an elected official to feel like that.
Times where I felt he was obviously hypocritical in the book:
1) He said how hard it was to raise money for his first campaign, and how he was inspired to make due with little resources, and made himself out to be a martyr…fast forward to 2008, and he raised more money than anyone else.
2) He said that politicians sometimes need to have simple message that stretches the truth (or not give the details of the whole story) due to MEDIA spins and the masses.
3) He speaks of the common man, but some of his voting records or actions aren’t consistent with that, because he has a tendency to overanalyze and overthink every vote he takes.
4) He said he owes Unions and other early benefactors to his first senatorial campaign, and how he struggles with juggling their needs.
When I was reading his book, I found myself appreciating his honesty, philosophy, and feelings. When I put his book down, I felt myself resenting his all-knowing intellect and balance. I felt like Winston Smith in 1984. I hate Big Brother; but I love Big Brother, and feel guilty for hating a perfect man like Big Brother. Just based on this book, Obama seems like a Dalai Lama of sorts, although he is biased towards the plight of the black man. I guess it could be implied that he desires a World Utopia, although it’s just not possible in 4-8 years. With such high expectations for fixing the world, I can imagine the disappointment in his followers when the Obama Utopia Plan never materializes.
The book does offer some inside information about how the Senate handles bills, and the behind-the- scenes compromises between Republicans and Democrats. Of course, all of that was on the job training for him, and a learning experience.
In fact, he was still having learning experiences with his debates with Alan Keyes, and the first time he had to raise campaign money by making the phone calls himself. The scary part is that those things happened relatively recently. He’s a lot younger than he appears to be. He paints himself as gullible yet distrusting, naive yet on guard (the Alpha and the Omega??).
Obama is your coolest college professor. He’s also an activist. And a hotshot defense lawyer. And a lawmaker. And a politician. And a historian. And a social commentator. And a writer. And an inspirational speaker. A loyal husband, and loving father. A workaholic. Self-critical yet sometimes arrogant. He’s charismatic and likable. Charming. Enthusiastic.
Although he has so many good intentions, his lack of experience makes me nervous for a president. All of this is still “new” to him. His internal struggles and compromises with other senators makes me pause when I imagine the things Nancy Pelosi or Google will try to impose upon him as president.
Do I recommend this book? Not if you want an easy read. It’s probably going to be required reading at some universities, if it already isn’t.
Sorry if this review was too lengthy or if I babbled; reading Obama rubbed off on me.