This is a history book — at a high level, a history of the world braided with a history of Constitutional United States and an autobiography of Barack Obama. Barack, in exquisitely explicit, superbly readable prose, weaves these three threads of history into a unique tapestry that from any angle shimmers brightly of America’s hopes — and its promise.
The Audacity of Hope is not a quick read. It doesn’t have a lot of dialog — there is a volume of information packed on each page in this voyage upon which the reader is launched — and it is a voyage, with Barack Obama sitting upright in the Captain’s chair, eyes smartly ahead.
Many have been impressed with Barack’s writing abilities that this and his first book, “Dreams From My Father” exhibit. These books were both number one on the bestseller lists of most of the top newspapers in the country, including the New York Times. Their clarity and narrative arc definitely put them into a top category of literary achievement.
In this latest book, Obama explains “Barack the man” as a product of influence by early and strong guidance from his mother and grandparents. At a later period, mature reflection and analysis of the shortcomings and absence of some of the men that were, or should have been, in his early life were formative. The deep disappointment with some of those experiences resulted in an affinity to values that could be described as virtual antitheses to those observed shortcomings. One outstanding example of this is his ingrained determination to be a close presence in the lives of his daughters and a staunch advocate for responsible parenthood. There are many more salient examples of these influences as the reader is ferried along on this rolling narrative.
Obama steers his cargo of passengers on a hazardous course through mine fields of deeply held opinions left and right, navigating with a bold confidence among most political obstacles in the pantheon of contested values on the American scene. Most often, but not always, his path skirts gently along left of center of each issue — this after a compelling analysis of both sides of the argument. Indeed, one of the most salient attributes of Barack Obama is his consistency in exploring all sides of an issue. One gets the impression that he reaches his own conclusions yet rarely holds animus for those who array themselves on the opposite side. All decent human beings get a hearing from Barack Obama, no matter their political positions.
A strong love of the U.S. Constitution is a value reflected in the character of Obama that, among many other attributes, defines him as the polar opposite of our current president. Teaching Constitutional law at the University of Chicago for years prior to running for the U.S. Senate gave him an intimate view of our relationship with the founding document. He says the following quote is not original with him, but he likes it as opposed to the “strict constructionist” view of the role the Constitution should play in our lives. The quote is: “The Constitution sees our democracy not as a house to be built, but as a conversation to be had.”
Obama says in his opinion, the purpose of the Constitution is to “build shifting alliances of consent,” for “ both our individual and collective judgments are at once legitimate and highly fallible.” He acknowledges that “rejection of absolutism implicit in our constitutional structure may sometimes make our politics seem unprincipled. But for most of our history it has encouraged the very process of information gathering, analysis and argument that allows us to make better, if not perfect, choices, not only about the means to our ends, but also about the ends themselves.”
A recurring source of argument of recent years is the unrelenting attack on the constitutional principle of separation of church and state. Obama reminds us of the history of the separation concept — it did not come from secular champions, but rather was shepherded into the founding documents by deist stalwarts Jefferson and Madison during the latter half of the 1780’s. They used the Virginia model as proposed by a sectarian Baptist minister. Reverend John Leland’s wisdom: “It is error alone that stands in need of government to support it; truth can and will do better without it.”
Obama makes the case that our recent history is such that it’s little wonder we’re “on the wrong track,” as many Americans now believe. The cause of this malaise has everything to do with the mind-set of the current set of leaders steeped in the “art” of 51% governance. What he means by this is that ruling by cobbling together particular interest groups behind opaque screens of obfuscation to make up a bare majority is a tactic that prevents progress from being made for the people. He advocates more conciliatory tones and transparency to garner larger majorities and meet the broader needs of the public — a practice of the art of the possible.
These are some of the points of the book that stand out in my reading. Obama expounds on just about any issue that most any person would be concerned about, so what I’ve discussed above barely scratches the surface. One issue that he failed to address though, just as most other leaders and would-be leaders refuse to address, is the financial hole we are in that will make it difficult to significantly advance any progressive agenda. Mounting debt and the prospects of its continued exponential growth will haunt any efforts to do so.
The other 800 pound gorilla in the room that Obama won’t address at all, won’t even flick a passing glance — and the real third rail of politics — is the population explosion we are experiencing in the face of rapidly declining resources such as fresh water, energy, farm output and desirable living space.
None of the presidential candidates have any inclination to commit political suicide by addressing this hulking issue. In my opinion, we will have to wait for reality to bite us so hard that it dawns on virtually everyone at once that current trends — and attitudes — are untenable. In the meantime, Barack Obama, in my opinion, offers the best of the choices in the presidential field.
Take a look at this book as well as the daily TV news accounts of campaign machinations. Because of his thoughtful, analytical and philosophical outlook, the possibility of having more transparency in government under his leadership, his command of the nuances of history, and his obvious management talent (as evidenced by — as of this writing — the most effective presidential campaign in recent U.S. history) you also may conclude that he is far and away the best choice. He just may be the Tiger Woods of politics and leadership.
Whether you make that conclusion or not, the book will strengthen your grasp of history by entertaining you with a compelling narrative and his fascinating expression of the English language. As I’ve already indicated, I recommend “The Audacity of Hope.” In fact, I give it five stars. Connect with history — read this book.
© 2008 R. Leland Wald.rip