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The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dreamby Barack Obama
Synopses & Reviews
"A government that truly represents these Americans — that truly serves these Americans — will require a different kind of politics. That politics will need to reflect our lives as they are actually lived. It won't be prepackaged, ready to pull off the shelf. It will have to be constructed from the best of our traditions and will have to account for the darker aspects of our past. We will need to understand just how we got to this place, this land of warring factions and tribal hatreds. And we'll need to remind ourselves, despite all our differences, just how much we share: common hopes, common dreams, a bond that will not break."
— from The Audacity of Hope
Echoing themes he sounded in his extraordinary keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Senator Barack Obama speaks in this book to Americans of all stripes who are weary of the smallness of U.S.politics today, and who long for something rooted in the faith and decency of the American Dream.
In The Audacity of Hope he draws on his experience as a senator and lawyer, a professor and father, a Christian and a skeptic, to illuminate the greatness of America's original ideals — and to remind us how vital it is to keep them before us. Along the way he explores such charged topics as globalization, the notion of American exceptionalism, the function of religion in public life, and the struggle to find a shared language in a nation torn by differences. While sharing his personal views on family, faith, and values, he argues that our very survival depends on finding common ground.
Pundits and voters alike have hailed Senator Obama as a man of uncommon vision in an age of partisan opportunism. The Audacity of Hope is a book of transforming power, a foundation for those who long for a politics that acknowledges the nobility and complexity of our lives.
"Ilinois's Democratic senator illuminates the constraints of mainstream politics all too well in this sonorous manifesto. Obama (Dreams from My Father) castigates divisive partisanship (especially the Republican brand) and calls for a centrist politics based on broad American values. His own cautious liberalism is a model: he's skeptical of big government and of Republican tax cuts for the rich and Social Security privatization; he's prochoice, but respectful of prolifers; supportive of religion, but not of imposing it. The policy result is a tepid Clintonism, featuring tax credits for the poor, a host of small-bore programs to address everything from worker retraining to teen pregnancy, and a health-care program that resembles Clinton's Hillary-care proposals. On Iraq, he floats a phased but open-ended troop withdrawal. His triangulated positions can seem conflicted: he supports free trade, while deploring its effects on American workers (he opposed the Central American Free Trade Agreement), in the end hoping halfheartedly that more support for education, science and renewable energy will see the economy through the dilemmas of globalization. Obama writes insightfully, with vivid firsthand observations, about politics and the compromises forced on politicians by fund-raising, interest groups, the media and legislative horse-trading. Alas, his muddled, uninspiring proposals bear the stamp of those compromises." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Why, just two years after being elected to the Senate, has Barack Obama set so many Democratic — and some Republican — imaginations on fire? The Illinois Democrat is certainly a magnetic speaker who delivers original phrases in composed yet passionate tones. His life, as told in the powerful memoir 'Dreams From My Father,' seems a model for the globalized future: The only child of a biracial, bicontinental... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) union, he grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia, then went on to become a community organizer in Chicago and the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review. And his athletic good looks have landed him on the cover of a major fashion magazine, with a spread by Annie Leibovitz. Not since John F. Kennedy has a junior senator so quickly become a national celebrity and a possible candidate for the White House. But what's most impressive about Obama, 45, is an intelligence that his new book displays in abundance. He articulates a mode of liberalism that sounds both highly pragmatic and deeply moral. 'The Audacity of Hope' — the title comes from a sermon by his Chicago pastor — trumpets no unifying theme or grand theory about how the American dream will be reclaimed and by whom. Chapters bear such prosaic titles as 'Values,' 'Opportunity' and 'Faith.' But in a disarmingly modest way, Obama offers a more sensible perspective on 'how we might begin the process of changing our politics and our civic life' than his more seasoned Capitol Hill colleagues have provided. Take the problem of the big money that is indispensable to winning a statewide or national campaign. Unlike most Democrats, Obama does not dwell on the corrupt antics of the convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his friends. His concern is about a more serious and enduring threat to democracy: class inequality. During his own Senate race in 2004, Obama had to spend a good deal of time with 'law firm partners and investment bankers, hedge fund managers and venture capitalists.' Most of these donors, he acknowledges, were 'smart, interesting people' who asked for no specific favors. Still, they couldn't help but express 'the perspectives of their class.' Their wealth prevented them from understanding loyal members of labor unions, evangelical churches or the NRA. As firm believers in a meritocracy, the donors implicitly denied that 'there might be any social ill that could not be cured by a high SAT score.' Lawmakers who routinely move in such circles, Obama adds, tend to neglect 'the world of immediate hunger, disappointment, fear, irrationality, and frequent hardship of the other 99 percent of the population — that is, the people that I'd entered public life to serve.' That willingness to criticize his own well-heeled supporters stems partly from Obama's years of work with the working poor. It reflects a desire to transcend accusations and talking points and to offer a fresh look at undeniable but seemingly insoluble problems. Thus Obama agrees with conservatives who argue that teen motherhood and the glorification of 'gangsta life' help keep young blacks from escaping the ghetto. But as an African-American, he also recognizes each violent criminal as a cousin or brother who was not preordained to go wrong. 'African Americans understand that culture matters but that culture is shaped by circumstance,' he observes, and the longer policymakers and the middle-class public ignore inner-city poverty or try to explain it away, the more endemic it becomes. To address the problem, Obama recommends a bundle of pragmatic policies that would draw both on public funds and the initiative of local businesses: low-cost child-care centers, neighborhood health clinics, job programs for ex-felons. Obama's own experiences also help him illuminate the root causes of anti-Americanism abroad. During his time in Indonesia, the archipelago was at the beginning of an oil-generated boom that spread prosperity, unevenly, throughout the islands. The United States had helped install Sukarno, a military dictator, after a bloodbath that claimed at least an estimated 500,000 lives. But once the Indonesian economy collapsed in the 1990s, militant Islamists were able to gain a hearing for their diatribes against modernist culture and American power. For Obama, this new 'land of strangers' serves as a lesson about the way that U.S. influence — cultural, economic and military — has both uplifted and angered the world, in roughly equal measure. He also points out that most Americans can't find Indonesia on a map. Throughout the book, Obama strikes similar ethical chords. He credits President Reagan's 'clarity about communism' but regrets that it 'seemed matched by his blindness regarding other sources of misery in the world.' He endorses marriage workshops and shudders at the explicit lyrics of some rap songs, but he opposes legal restrictions on intimate behavior. 'Perhaps I just find the ways of the human heart too various, and my own life too imperfect, to believe myself qualified to serve as anyone's moral arbiter,' he writes, echoing Jesus' judgment that only those without sin should cast the first stone. Obama's knack for mixing stirring rhetoric about good and evil with practical policy ideas is rare in the modern history of U.S. politics. At times, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Kennedy and Reagan managed the feat. But none of these men wrote his own presidential speeches. Nor did Kennedy or Reagan really write the books that carry their names. In contrast, 'The Audacity of Hope' is clearly Obama's own creation; the rhythms, the self-deprecating humor and the graceful transitions all resemble those in his memoir. The sentimentality does, too. His book concludes with a vignette that could be entitled 'Mr. Obama Goes to Washington.' On fine evenings, the senator likes to take a run down the Mall and end up inside the Lincoln Memorial. He reads the two greatest, and perhaps shortest, speeches ever written and delivered by an American president and reflects on Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'mighty cadence' that thrilled a massive crowd a century later. 'My heart is filled,' Obama writes, 'with love for this country.' The story, like the original by Frank Capra, is a bit hard to believe. (Does the senator really pore over the words of the Second Inaugural and the Gettsyburg Address on every visit?) Of course, the policies Obama favors are far less audacious than Lincoln's destruction of the slave system or King's crusade to abolish the Jim Crow order that replaced it. Still, in our lowdown, dispiriting era, Obama's talent for proposing humane, sensible solutions with uplifting, elegant prose does fill one with hope. Someday, it may even help him get elected president. Michael Kazin's most recent book is 'A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan.' He teaches history at Georgetown University." Reviewed by Michael Kazin, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"Drawing on his experiences as a senator and lawyer, a professor and father, a Christian and a skeptic, Obama...highlights the boldness of America's original ideas and reminds readers of the importance of keeping them at the forefront of their daily lives." Ebony magazine
"Mr. Obama strives in these pages to ground his policy thinking in simple common sense....That, in itself, is something unusual, not only in these venomous pre-election days, but also in these increasingly polarized and polarizing times." Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
"It is a mixture of personal memoir and lengthy analyses of public policy options." Chicago Sun-Times
"Obama writes convincingly about race as well as the lofty place the Constitution holds in American life, not always an easy pairing for African Americans." Los Angeles Times
"He is one of the best writers to enter modern politics." Jonathan Alter, Newsweek.com
"The self-portrait is appealing. It presents a man of relative youth yet maturity, a wise observer of the human condition, a figure who possesses perseverance and writing skills that have flashes of grandeur." Gary Hart, New York Times Book Review
In July 2004, Barack Obama electrified the Democratic National Convention with an address that spoke to Americans across the political spectrum. One phrase in particular anchored itself in listeners minds, a reminder that for all the discord and struggle to be found in our history as a nation, we have always been guided by a dogged optimism in the future, or what Obama called “the audacity of hope.”
The Audacity of Hope is Barack Obamas call for a different brand of politics—a politics for those weary of bitter partisanship and alienated by the “endless clash of armies” we see in congress and on the campaign trail; a politics rooted in the faith, inclusiveness, and nobility of spirit at the heart of “our improbable experiment in democracy.” He explores those forces—from the fear of losing to the perpetual need to raise money to the power of the media—that can stifle even the best-intentioned politician. He also writes, with surprising intimacy and self-deprecating humor, about settling in as a senator, seeking to balance the demands of public service and family life, and his own deepening religious commitment.
At the heart of this book is Barack Obamas vision of how we can move beyond our divisions to tackle concrete problems. He examines the growing economic insecurity of American families, the racial and religious tensions within the body politic, and the transnational threats—from terrorism to pandemic—that gather beyond our shores. And he grapples with the role that faith plays in a democracy—where it is vital and where it must never intrude. Underlying his stories about family, friends, and members of the Senate is a vigorous search for connection: the foundation for a radically hopeful political consensus.
A public servant and a lawyer, a professor and a father, a Christian and a skeptic, and above all a student of history and human nature, Barack Obama has written a book of transforming power. Only by returning to the principles that gave birth to our Constitution, he says, can Americans repair a political process that is broken, and restore to working order a government that has fallen dangerously out of touch with millions of ordinary Americans. Those Americans are out there, he writes—“waiting for Republicans and Democrats to catch up with them.”
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Barack Obama graduated from Harvard Law School in 1991, where he served as the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. He has worked as a community organizer, civil rights attorney, and law professor. Since 1997, he has represented parts of Chicago's South Side in the Illinois General Assembly, and he is currently the junior U.S. senator from Illinois. He lives in Chicago with his wife, Michelle, and daughters, Malia and Sasha.
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