Back in December, while killing time in Barnes & Noble, I began browsing through a copy of Barack Obama’s book “The Audacity of Hope.” I opened to a random page near the middle of the book, began reading–and immediately found myself disagreeing with something he said. It had to do with an interpretation of Scripture.
As I continued perusing the book, I realized it wasn’t what I had assumed–that is, a typical campaign biography, published to puff up the candidate and inflate his accomplishments. That’s a cynical statement on my part, but it explains why I hadn’t bothered reading Obama’s book before. But now I realized it wasn’t like that at all. Each chapter was basically an extended essay on a specific subject–politics, opportunity, faith, values, the Constitution, etc.
I decided I needed to read the book, to better understand my then-future President’s views and discover other possible areas of disagreement.
Now I’m halfway through the book, and let me tell you–it’s a superb book. I’ll be posting more about individual chapters. But for now, here are some initial observations.
- Since the book was written before Obama’s presidential campaign began, it gives a fascinating perspective to the campaign and to events since the election. You understand why he acted in certain ways, why he took certain positions, and where he acted in ways not entirely consistent with his published views. And you catch glimpses of where he may be headed.
- Obama is a highly talented writer. He doesn’t use a ghost writer, as does nearly every other politician. You’re reading his own thoughts in his own words.
- He is self-deprecating, freely citing his faults and failures, and poking fun at himself.
- He understands and is conversant on difficult issues, like the economy. He has thought deeply about lots of important issues. That gives me confidence (which I lacked in Bush, and wouldn’t have felt in McCain).
- His values, for the most part, mirror mine (though I haven’t read the chapter on “Faith” yet, where he discusses some issues where I’m sure to disagree).
- I’m impressed with his detailed grasp of US history. He provides fascinating insights into how we got where we are.
- He shares my thoughts (and, it seems, disgust) with how our government is broken and dysfunctional, regardless of which party is in charge. He illuminates where the problems lie (and I suspect that if we give him time, over the course of his presidency he’ll try to accomplish at least a few changes).
- Though he’s unabashedly a Democrat, it’s not a partisan book. He skewers, and commends, both Democrats and Republicans. “My party can be smug, detached, and dogmatic at times,” he says in the prologue.
Here’s a paragraph toward the end of the prologue, a capsulized listing of basic views about America.
“I believe in the free market, competition, and entrepreneurship, and think no small number of government programs don’t work as advertised. I wish the country had fewer lawyers and more engineers. I think America has more often been a force for good than for ill in the world. I carry few illusions about our enemies, and revere the courage and competence of our military. I reject a politics that is based solely on racial identity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or victimhood generally. I think much of what ails the inner city involves a breakdown in culture that will not be cured by money alone, and that our values and spiritual life matter at least as much as our GDP.”
Although I voted for Obama and retain high hopes, I am no Obama worshiper. I have been repeatedly disappointed by the persons I helped elect, and my cynicism, skepticism, and distrust run deep. But I can still muster up hope, and I can’t live a sane life without hope.