Friday, December 29, 2006

Reading Obama's Audacity of Hope, Part III

This is the last part of my review of Barack Obama's Audacity of Hope.

Chapter Seven: Race

As the only American senator with known African ancestry, Obama is in a unique position to discuss race. He talks, for example, about the importance of the support he received from wealthy African Americans early in his political career and senatorial campaign, and how, in past years, there simply wouldn’t have been that many people of color with that kind of money. But, even so, the gaps in income, education and net worth that exist today between racial and ethnic groups defy the notion that we have or are becoming a racially blind society. To be sure, he talks about individual responsibility in regards to education and family stability, but contrasts these issues with ways that public policy could help reduce the income gaps among differing groups of people. One example he gives is the possibility of scholarships for minority students in math and science graduate programs where the number of African American and Latino students is comparatively miniscule.

Consider this excerpt from p. 259:

What would that be worth to all of us – an American in which crime has fallen, more children are cared for, cities are reborn, and the biases, fear, and discord that black poverty feeds are slowly drained away? Would it be worth what we’ve spent in the past year in Iraq? Would it be worth relinquishing demands for estate tax repeal? It’s hard to quantify the benefits of such changes – precisely because the benefits would be immeasurable.

He also talks about the hard working parents trying to keep their kids out of trouble and teach them good values and a work ethic. He mentions a man in Chicago who owns a number of businesses and hires young men off the street to teach them job skills. His turnover is high but those who stay with him for any length of time start talking about college or trade school.

In this chapter he also touches on illegal immigration. On pages 265 and 266 he recounts a conversation he had with a Republican senator on an immigration bill. I wish he had named names because the senator in question says “These Mexicans are just willing to work harder than Americans do.”

Chapter Eight: The World Beyond Our Borders

This is the foreign policy chapter and Obama discusses in detail the years of his childhood spent in Indonesia with his mother and stepfather. Again, he gives a brief overview of American history in this area. He discusses in depth his visits to Iraq and the former Soviet Union. There are a number of pithy statements in this chapter but none that I thought were representative of the entire thought pattern. It is interesting to read and difficult to summarize or excerpt from.

Chapter Nine: Family

The family chapter is perhaps the most personal chapter in the book. He recounts meeting his wife and their courtship. He expands this to discuss the American family in general. Like many people today he was raised by a single parent and he talks about the issues involved in his childhood and in single parent families more broadly. He touches on marriage and child care. It is almost a requirement for politicians to write or talk about how wonderful their spouses are and Obama is no exception. His wife is lawyer and the two of them have the money to afford good reliable child care. In addition his mother-in-law lives nearby. He writes of knowing how fortunate they are to have family close at hand and the means to fill in the gaps where needed, as well as some flexibility in work hours, and of how many American do not have these luxuries. Again he brings personal responsibility into the discussion but also some ideas on ways that public policy could ease the day to day existence of many people.


Obama recounts the two times he attended the Democratic National Convention, one with more fanfare and success than the other. He ends the book by going back to a theme in the prologue, that of value of public service.

Source Notes

While the book is primarily a personal narrative he does include some facts and other information that should be cited. In lieu of a standard bibliography or list of footnotes, source material is available on a website for the book, Sources are primarily reports, magazine, and newspaper articles; many if not most are from within the past few years. It is difficult to have too many sources but the list Obama (or, according to the acknowledgements, someone else) has put together is more than adequate to document what he says.

Overall Impression

As I said at the beginning of this review, I enjoyed this book immensely. He has a gift with words and writes beautifully, almost lyrically in places. Yet he writes with substance and I often had to stop and think about what he had said. He has that rare knack to talk about something significant and sometimes painful without being overblown or melodramatic about it. Some of his discussions on race, of people throwing their keys at him outside restaurants, assuming he is a valet, are loaded with emotion but presented in passing. Someone else describing an upbringing similar to his could easily do so in the harsh and jagged tones of deprivation and victimization. Obama talks of it in simple nonjudgmental terms of acceptance. I found it impossible to read the book and not maintain or increase my opinion of him. I did not walk away with a clear understanding of the specific policy measures he would like to see put into place, but I do think I have a better idea of what general goals he has for the country, and I like them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful and very well written book that makes awesome reading. The book draws one into the life of Barack Obama and is very much a look at a very knowledgeable, well educated and caring person. Makes one wonder how so many people plan to settle for so much less in this year of Presidential elections!! Perhaps many in this country are happy to keep on plodding away with the old establishment and show lack of pride and patriotism in this wonderful country. Anyone considering to cast a ballot for any relative of a former U.S. President that had the audacity to shame his family and his country to the degree that was evident, deserves everything that will come down on them. What are we thinking???!! Just more of the old life with a shameless pair!!? Keep writing and campaigning Obama!