Barack Obama: The Audacity Of Hope. Chapter Five: Opportunity; Part One. BOOK REVIEW: The Vision Of Alexander Hamilton And Abraham Lincoln.
This Chapter is entitled Opportunity, however it is about our recent and past economic history and the economic challenges that face us today. He mentions the differences in the financial stability for those who work in science/tech industries like those located in Silicon Valley and gives the example (2006) of blue collar people who work for a Maytag factory that is profitable but the CEO has decided to move the factory to Mexico to improve profit margins. One Union leader complained they have cut salaries and benefits and still management has decided to move probably to get the stock price up so the executives can exercise their stock options.
Obama analyzes Globalization and the benefits it has bought American consumers but also the dislocation it has caused the American worker. American companies have automated, downsized, outsourced and off shored to remain competitive and profitable. In the meantime many American workers have lost their high paying jobs to global competition and are left with no work or low paying service jobs. Those who are well educated and technologically inclined find jobs in the new information culture and other technological fields.
This has created a disparity in income for Americans. The percentage of those falling below the property line is increasing, shrinking the middle class, while the income of the wealthiest is increasing.
Obama sees education as one solution to the problem. We must educate our young people to be able to compete in the global market place. Government must take the lead in this process.
Obama notes that when the nation shifted from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy government made adjustments. President Lincoln created the land grant college system to reeducate farm workers. Theodore Roosevelt passed laws regulating the economy including breaking up the trusts and monopolies to protect smaller businesses and consumers. Later President Roosevelt saw that our industrial economy needed a social safety net for the new industrial worker and he created the new deal which saw a vast increase in the middle class until the last part of the last century when the idea that “free markets” would regulate themselves came into vogue.
However with the bursting of the financial and real estate bubble and the uncovering of the related corruption and fraud it became clear that markets were not free and needed guidance and regulation or the unscrupulous would manipulate them for illegal profit. Government needed to regulate but not to the extent that it smothered the actions of the free market and capitalistic system.
“The insights of Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln that the resources and power of the national government can facilitate rather than supplant a vibrant free market has continued to be one of the cornerstones of both Republican and Democratic policies at every stage of America’s development. The Hoover Dam, The Tennessee Valley Authority, the interstate highway system, the Internet, the Human Genome Project- time and again government has helped pave the way for an explosion of private economic activity. And through the creation of a system of public schools and institutions 0f higher education as well as programs like the G. I. bill, that made a college education available to millions, government has helped provide individuals the tools to adapt and innovate in a climate of constant technological change.” Again we are at another crossroads in American Society to which we must adapt to maintain America’s leadership in the World.
Barack Obama: Book Review: The Audacity Of Hope. Chapter Four: Politics. (Pluses And Minuses Of Political Life.)
SENATOR OBAMA: WASHINGTON; IN THE POLITICAL
He says his favorite activity as a Senator is a town meeting where he gets to meet with the voters and discuss issues with them. However if you are running a state wide campaign the only efficient way to reach the voters with your message is by television. Running for a state senator cost about $100,000; running for U.S. Senator requires a state wide campaign and that means television of necessity. When he first ran for Federal Senator, David Axelrod, his political advisor, told him in a state like Illinois that would cost $5,000,000 for the primary and ten to fifteen million for the main race at a minimum.
You cannot raise this kind of money by cold calling prospective donors for $2000.00. It requires backing by large interest groups like unions for him or the Chamber of Commerce for Republicans. Their support usually comes with strings. If what they want fits with your beliefs, fine, if it doesn’t then problems arise and you may be a one term Senator when they throw their support to someone else in the next election. (In this chapter Obama doesn’t discuss the impact of the internet on fund raising although the prior campaign of Governor Howard Dean, who ran in the primary for nomination for Presidency, relied almost entirely on internet generated funding. He raised over 50 million dollars as well as organizing his campaign through internet groups like Meet Up. We also know John Kerry raised a substantial a amount through the internet. Yet big donors were the major factors in both Bush’s and Kerry’s campaigns)
After winning the primary Obama was lucky enough to run against a deep pocket Republican who looked like real trouble but had to drop out because of a scandal. The Republican Party pulled a last minute candidate from another state whose views were so off point that Obama coasted to victory.
Once you are a Senator the narrower your interactions become. Instead of town meetings you meet with lobbyists, heads of PACs or representatives of interest groups because of time considerations and these are the people who can raise the kind of money needed to stay in office. Also you need the backing of groups that have organizations in place that can help you campaign; for Democrats it means the unions, pro-choice groups and the environmentalists; for Republicans it is the NRA, anti tax groups and chambers of commerce.
Thus politicians can be held captive, if they are not careful, by big money contributors or interest groups.
The most influential group is the media, left right and center. They reach millions of people every day and a few disparaging reports can severely damage your reputation and chances for re-election. Further the press likes to stir up controversy and the demands of the 24/7 news cycle doesn’t give them much time to analyze or investigate the ramifications of your votes or activities. Thus things may get misconstrued and the news may move on before you have had a chance to explain. Then the bloggers take over and the misconstrued fact is repeated million times and becomes embedded in the public psyche as true.
The spin put on a story either by the media , your opponents or perhaps your own public relations people can soften or harden a story in your favor or against you.
Voting always is difficult. No matter how you vote there will always be someone who is hurt and dissatisfied with the vote. Frequently many bills reach the floor for a vote but interest groups have petitioned Senators to add clauses that have no relation to the bill but will benefit something contrary to what the bill was intended to do. Thus you vote for the bill because you perceive it as mainly for the good which outweighs the thorns necessary to get it passed. Later this can be brought up that you voted for the thorns without being able to explain that 90 percent of the bill was for a good cause.
Also the way you voted can be turned by a skillful media agent into a negative ad making you look like you are against motherhood, apple-pie and the flag.
(This book was written during Obama’s first term as a U.S. Senator from Illinois. He thought he had luck on his side in getting elected and it appears he did. The strongest Democratic contender dropped out of the primary and then the strongest Republican candidate had to withdraw.)
Despite all the pitfalls and chaos in the system Obama thinks it is still the best and with a few slight modifications it could be made better
In the end the citizen who votes responsibly is the most important person in a Democracy despite all the tricks and shenanigans of the professional groups seeking leverage and power.
Barack Obama: The Audacity Of Hope. Chapter Three: Our Constitution. ( Majority Rule With Minority Rights.)
Barack Obama Taking Oath of Office On January 20,2009
I, Barack Obama, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Obama in this chapter discusses the Constitution and the ways of interpreting it. Looking to the intent of the Founders is difficult because the Framers of the Constitution were often divided on the way the Constitution should be interpreted. A strict interpretation of the Constitution dismisses two hundred years of experience, history and change in applying the Constitution. We are a technological society of over 300 million people and no longer an agrarian based society of three or four million people. Obama believes the Constitution is a guide as to how to think rather than a document telling us what to think in a modern society undreamed of at the time it was adopted.
Despite this some would interpret the document literally. If it doesn’t clearly say it then it can’t be implied although reason and experience tells us the Framers probably would. Obama states that the Framers knew at the time the Constitution was adopted it was not a finished document. The first ten amendments, The Bill Of Rights, applied to white property owners only. It took later amendments and cases to apply these rights to rich or poor, black or white, male or female and eliminate any racial limitations. The Fourteenth Amendment made them binding on the States. Other amendments were needed for things like income tax, term limits on the Presidency or the abolition of alcohol, ratified and then repealed.
Recently however Constitutional rights have been weakened by anti-terrorist legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by the Chief Executive. (After writing this book Obama himself became President and one wonders how he would write this chapter now. What about using a drone to summarily kill an American citizen in a foreign country for expressing beliefs alleged to cause others to commit acts of terrorism? War and other emergencies often seem to trump the values expressed in the Constitution. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus so Northern troops could safely pass through Maryland to protect an undefended Washington D.C.)
The Constitution doesn’t talk about Filibuster but the Senate recognizes the procedure and it was used to perpetuate Jim Crow laws for one hundred years and is often used by a minority to block laws, judicial and other appointments supported by a majority but not a super majority of 60 Senators. This minority rule arising in the Senate, whose membership is based on two Senators from each state, is itself not representative of all the citizens of the United States equally and in that sense also is a minority body. This is one of many concessions the Framers and others made to make the adjustments necessary for a Federal union to work. Thus the Framers recognized that there are seeds of anarchy in a pure democracy and so put in measures like a bicameral legislature, one house based on representation by population the other based on representation by state, with different terms, to avoid precipitous change or the tyranny of the majority over the minority. (Sometimes it seems like the tyranny of a skillful minority over the majority.)
Obama sees the Constitution as a body of rules for a rational, deliberative process. With its elaborate machinery, checks and balances, separation of powers, federalist principles and the Bill Of Rights it is designed to force us into a conversation, testing ideas against external realities , forging alliances and making concessions to make our Democracy work even in trying times.
The Framers did not recognize and absolute truth or an “ism” or dicta from on high and thus the Constitution forces those in power to take all the public’s ideas and interests into account when formulating laws.
Obama in this chapter talks about values. If you remember the 2004 presidential election the subject of values was a big issue if not a decisive issue in the campaign. This is one of those nebulous issues thought up by Karl Rove to show that Republican voters, particularly fundamentalist Christian voters had superior values than those people that just voted their economic interests. Like it or not the candidates had to address issues surrounding abortion, gay marriage, gays in the military etc.
Obama believes that the core values of America are those that are expressed in the Bill Of Rights and it is those values that unite us as a people.
Politicians in Washington are engaged in a big money game over humanist values versus property values for their constituencies. Thus the issue of values came up in the 1994 election when the values in question, gun rights, gay rights, abortion, Christian fundamentalism etc. had nothing to do with the economic rights of the people involved. People with marginal incomes were led not to vote for their economic interests but for perceived values that would have no effect as to what they had on the table to eat that night. Thus an election was decided on false issues created by politicians whose loyalty lay not with the electorate but the economic interests of the wealthy.
While the values of Americans as expressed in the Bill Of Rights have not changed 9/11 has allowed the government to play fast and loose with constitutional principles. Problems arise when conservatives who value “free markets” or gun rights do not pay enough attention to those that liberals value like freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, privacy and due process. Also who controls woman’s reproductive rights seem to cut both ways and everybody appears to believe in freedom of worship but the line that defines government involvement in religion is often blurred depending on one’ point of view.
Often there is a misconception between values and ideology. Values are important to people but do not rise to the level of an ideology. Many people value gun rights but nowhere in the Constitution is there a clause saying they can’t be regulated so those who enjoy hunting can exercise their gun rights but those who wish to use an AK 47 for illicit purposes can’t be stopped from doing so.
Ones perception of other peoples values can be enhanced by empathy or by putting yourself in the other person’s shoes to see how he sees the issues surrounding values and what is important and what is not. Those that wish to divide the public on the issue of values by creating good guys and bad guys do not act in the public interest.
What is more important; clean air and water, adequate medical care, proper education a broad and secure middle class, freedom of speech, privacy rights, due process, freedom of assembly or small government, unfettered markets, an uncontrolled military and their contractors, laws that cause the accumulation of wealth in the top sector of the public and lobbyists that formulate laws and have the financial clout to see that they are enacted?
Obama believes that change is in the air and that people are becoming more enlightened as to what is important to them and the welfare of the public in general and what is important to the power brokers in Washington.