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August 22, 2007

Rohit Reviews: The Audacity of Hope

The Audacity of Hope

I picked up a copy of The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama in February 2007, about six months after it had been released. Prior to even opening the book, however, I was besieged by the breathless reactions of those around me: the best book ever; or shameless propaganda announcing his bid for presidency. It seemed that despite all his efforts to temper partisan hysteria—to see the proverbial other side—Senator Obama's own undertaking had become part of that vitriolic game of tit-for-tat, good versus evil, black versus white, that necessarily seems to consume national politics in the U.S., now more than ever in recent memory. My own response to this book is dramatically less frantic.

Let me begin by saying that I very much enjoyed this book. Obama is a terrific writer, as I have noted earlier, and this book is no exception. It is well-composed, extremely well-written, and honestly, often left me awestruck by the beauty of its prose: the simple, yet powerful parallel, or the complex, yet convincing paragraph. And there can be no argument that in a world of barely literate partisan hacks of dubious qualifications, Obama is exceptionally intelligent, well-intentioned, and well-deserving of his success. His overarching message of tolerance and understanding restores some (little) faith in a political system that long ago left me disenchanted. I would very much like to get behind him wholeheartedly as many of my friends have. But the thing is: I can't. I don't necessarily agree with him.

That's not to say I disagree in everything. In fact, for the most part, I'd say that my viewpoints are in sync with those he holds for most social issues. Economics, on the other hand, are a completely different story, perhaps because my own politics in this regard don't align with those of the Democratic party to begin with. My interests are not those of the blue collar worker in the so-called heartland, and to an extent, I can't even sympathize with their problems; I have my own. Perhaps I am just an unsympathetic bastard, or maybe, I'm just a product of my environment. I'm reminded of a quote from the chapter on politics:

Increasingly I found myself spending time with people of means—law firm partners and investment bankers, hedge fund managers and venture capitalists. As a rule, they were smart, interesting people, knowledgeable about public policy, liberal in their politics, expecting nothing more than a hearing of their opinions in exchange for their checks. But they reflected, almost uniformly, the perspectives of their class: the top 1 percent or so of the income scale that can afford to write a $2,000 check to a political candidate. They believed in free markets and an educational meritocracy; they found it hard to imagine that there might be any social ill that could not be cured by a high SAT score. They had no patience for protectionism, found unions troublesome, and were not particularly sympathetic to those whose lives were upended by the movements of global capital. Most were adamantly prochoice and antigun and were vaguely suspicious of deep religious sentiment.1

In short, that's me. I might not earn in the top 1 percent or so of the income scale and I certainly cannot afford to write a check for two grand (especially now that I'm unemployed), but I certainly worked with those who could, and will be attending school in the fall to enter some of those very professions. And in many ways, politics remains a zero-sum game by virtue of limited resources: by voting for someone who might dedicate resources to allowing professions (e.g. car manufacturing) to flourish in this country artificially when normally they would not, I am hurting myself (through more expensive goods, less exports due to retaliatory tariffs, etc.), without seeing any of the help (I do not, and will not manufacture cars at any point in my life).

And thus, I am left with an even further dilemma than when I decided to read this book to see if I like Obama: I don't agree with all of his policies, but he's still the most exciting (Democratic) candidate; and all the Republicans are crazy (McCain) posturing (Giuliani) flip-floppers (Romney). Guess truth can't be found in a book, right?

In any case, despite all that, I think this book is worth a read, if for nothing else, than the quality of the writing. Four stars of five.

1 Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope (New York: Crown Publishers, 2006), 113-114.


Alright, I am not a Mitt guy by any means (although you would think my religious views would be otherwise), however I have one question to ask regarding flip-flopping. Is not the elected individual supposed to represent the hearts and minds of the majority who he/she represents? I applaud Mitt for changing stances IF those changes were inline with the majority. (And I have not had the time or desire to research this).

Knowing how strong his religious ties are, that is something that I find pretty interesting.

Ryan, interesting point. Theoretically, I suppose you are right that an elected official should represent not just his or her own views, but that of (the majority of) his or her constituents as well. I think in the case of Romney, however, he is insinuating that his personal beliefs are what changed, which necessarily makes him a flip-flopper.

The biggest problem with flip-flopping isn't that it shows a person to be weak in the way the Republicans smeared Kerry in '04, but that it shows them to be untrustworthy. Does Romney really support abortion rights (as he claimed while governor of Massachusetts), or is he in favor of banning abortion outright with a constitutional amendment, as he has stated as recently as early August (on ABC)?

With flip-flopping candidates, you don't know what you're getting. Perhaps they are simply being extreme during primary season to energize their party's base and will track to the center as elected officials—or maybe, they're just opportunistic pariahs who can't be trusted at all. You just don't know.

I like Ike!

Ha! Everyone likes Ike. R.I.P.

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