Barack Obama: Book Review: The Audacity Of Hope. Chapter Four: Politics. (Pluses And Minuses Of Political Life.)

January 19, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
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Obama discusses the problems and joys of political life. He doesn’t pull any punches in this chapter so if you are thinking of running for office read carefully.

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.)

January 12, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
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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.


BARACK OBAMA:BOOK REVIEW: The Audacity Of Hope. Chapter Two: Values.

January 2, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
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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.


Barack Obama: The Audacity Of Hope. Chapter One: Republicans And Democrats. Identity And Philosophy.

December 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
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Senators Edward  Kennedy And Barack Obama 2007

Barack Obama in this chapter discusses the difference between Republicans and Democrats historically and up to the present day. He notes that the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt has become more conservative recently hearkening back to the party as it was in the Twenties before the Great Depression

The party of Nelson Rockefeller made up of moderates who would go along to get along has disappeared. There have been changes in the Democratic Party also. The party once run by big city bosses and with a contingent from the Solid South has also disappeared. Also the party that ruled Congress for forty years after World War II is gone.

However while the Democrats have held on to the idea that politics is a game of achieving goals incrementally by give and take and compromise to the benefit of society in general, the Republicans have become more conservative and more absolutist.

Republican party discipline is rigidly enforced by its leaders. Districts have been gerrymandered into safe districts except if a member breaks a party rule like no new taxes then he is met by an onslaught of media attack ads and vituperation and vilification on conservative talk shows. Thus a shiny new true believer is put in his place as payment to the chastised and dismissed member for daring to vote his beliefs or conscience.

Beyond this the Republican Party has been taken over by its conservative wing and there are fewer moderates to meet and reach decisions somewhere in the middle. Now it’s our way or the highway and lobbyists like Grover Norquist who are not elected but have more power over issues than elected members decide policies and even the fate of elected members. They control big money donors so if a tenet of their conservative philosophy is violated by a member he can expect to be vigorously opposed in the next primary. Also new members are forced to sign pledges to vote certain ways on measures like no new taxes.

Barack Obama thinks that this polarity and absolutism exhibited by the Republican right is preventing the government from enacting legislation fair to all Americans or even functioning properly as a governing body in a democratic society

Instead the Republicans have a limited focus for government, no safety net, no health care, no consumer protection, small government, no regulation of commerce, free markets and government should only provide for the national defense and protection of private property.

Obama sees this situation as a bad one for all concerned. Without a strong and vibrant middle class and with proper education for all Americans we will not be able to compete in a globalized economy.

The Audacity Of Hope is about changing the status quo in Washington to a government that is more focused on protecting and nourishing all its people and not just the wealthy. To do otherwise would  be to abandon our premiere place as the leader of the World to other rising powers. Therefore we must prepare our country to compete in order  to hold our place in the world.

This book is different than his first book, Dreams From Father. In that book he seemed to be searching for identification and a philosophy to live by. In this book he appears to have found his identity and philosophy.


Barack Obama: The Audacity Of Hope. (Thoughts On Recapturing The American Dream). 2006. Prologue. Book Review.

December 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
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In 2006 Barack Obama published his second book. His first book Dreams From My Father, about his life up to entering law school was written after he had graduated from law school. It initially had a lack luster reception but upon his election to the Senate it was re-released and became a best seller.  In this book he tells us of his experiences after law school. Upon graduation he went back to Chicago where he became a civil rights lawyer, a lecturer at the University Of Chicago Law School, married Michelle and had two girls and eventually, after being a political activist (He is considered responsible for registering 150,000 voters in behalf of the Democratic Party), he decided to become a candidate for political office. He first ran on the state level and then on the Federal level. He dedicates this book to the women who raised him, his grandmother Tutu and his mother Ann.

Despite a lukewarm reception at his entrance into politics on his  first run for the state senate by perseverance and hard work he won.  Next after a failed attempt at a congressional seat he decided to run for U.S. Senate. Michelle was dubious but she supported him. This  decision was also greeted coolly by the power brokers in Illinois as he was running against a wealthy Republican incumbent, Peter Fitzgerald. However fortune smiled on him when the incumbent dropped out of the race because of a scandal and the Republicans were forced to bring in a candidate from another state with wild ideas like some of the candidates in the Republican runoff of 2011.

Campaigning on a state wide basis with a low budget was rigorous and stressful on family life but it caused him to speak directly with many voters and learn their hopes and fears.

Basically the average voter wanted a secure job, a decent education for the children, health care at a reasonable cost, a clean environment, safety from criminals and terrorists and a retirement with security and dignity. This book is based on those discussions he had during his during his successful campaign for the Senate.

He states that his own philosophy resembles more closely the editorials found in the N.Y. Times rather than the The Wall Street Journal. The book discusses those things that unite us as well as those that divide us and the common values that can lead us to a new consensus. He rejects politics that is founded solely on racial identity, gender, identity, sexual orientation, or victim-hood.  He believes that our culture and values are important as our GDP. His first book was written in his late twenties before he had decided to run for political office while this book was written after he had become an experienced politician and probably with an eye on the Presidency.


Dreams From My Father, A Story Of Race And Inheritance. Barack Obama. Book Review. Part Two, Chicago, Chapter Fourteen. Meeting Reverend Wright: The Audacity Of Hope Sermon: Acceptance to Harvard Law: Adieu To Chicago.

September 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
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Barack, after securing assistance from the Catholic Churches in his organizing area, decides to make a more dedicated effort to recruit 50 Protestant Churches to support his projects. During this campaign a number of clergymen suggested that he talk to Reverend Jeremiah Wright a powerful and legendary pastor who had built his church from almost no members into the thousands. He was not only legendary on the Southside but also controversial. Some of his sermons would be used against Obama later when he ran for president. One statement in particular that would follow Reverend Wright and later his –parishioner Barack Obama was “Not God bless America but Goddamn America.” Despite this fiery rhetoric some of his fellow pastors saw his church as a Buppie congregation because of the number successful blacks who attended yet had moved from the Southside. However when Barack first met Rev. Wright he was not yet willing to join his church or any church. That came later when he returned as a lawyer and married Michelle.

In this chapter Barack talks a lot about faith and while he doesn’t come right out and say it he seems to be one of those who come down on the side of reason rather than revelation.

He is preparing Johnnie the other organizer he is mentoring to take over his duties as he discloses that he has been admitted to Harvard Law School. While his friends and colleagues see this as a way to escape the realities of the Southside, Father Will believes he will be back. Barack also discloses to the reader that his reason for going to law school was to understand the levers of power and how to use them. He believes that this will make him more effective in his community work.

Barack says little about his decision to go to an Ivy League law school. He applied to Stanford and Yale as well as Harvard and others. Nothing is said about who may have counseled him on this move nor does he discuss the application process which takes months. One has to have very good under graduate grades as well as a very high score on the LSAT in addition to letters of recommendation from former professors and employers to gain admission. He probably wrote an admissions essay on his reasons for wanting a legal education also. It would have been nice to see those documents included in this book as an appendix.

Implicit in his decision to go to law school and “learn how to work the levers of power” is the conclusion that community organizing is seeking change from the bottom up and the real power for change lies in the city, county and state governments who make the rules and appropriate and distribute the funds for change from the top down.

Like Reverend Wright he sees that successful Blacks often leave the Southside Black Community which is disintegrating. Wright believes that is detrimental to the preservation of the Black heritage.  Even Mary, his coworker at Father Will’s church who is raising two mixed race daughters by herself, is upset and asks “Why do you men always pickup and leave.”

Harold Washington dies suddenly and there is no other Black politician of sufficient stature to take his place. Thus creating further inroads into the fabric of the Black community both he and Reverend Wright are trying to strengthen and preserve, each in their own way.

Before he leaves, he hears Reverend Wright’s sermon on the “Audacity Of Hope” based on the story of Hannah from the Book Of Samuel. She is barren and taunted by her rivals. However she has not lost hope and still prays to her God for a better day. Rev. Wright compares this to those who survived Hiroshima, The Sharpville Massacre, The Black experience from slavery to the present and all people who found themselves in hopeless circumstances but through their faith refused to give up hope in the face of doom.

Barack sees that the congregation is deeply moved by this sermon and that their spirits are revived and replenished to carry on despite a bitter past. The sermon has moved Barack to tears and the little boy sitting next to him offers him a tissue.

This sermon struck a chord deep in Barack because we know that he entitled his second book the Audacity Of Hope and called his Keynote speech at the Democratic Convention in 2004 the Audacity of Hope.

He leaves for Kenya, no longer a novice in the realities and ways of the World, to meet his relatives before going on to Harvard to acquire the knowledge to make himself a more effective leader.

Barack seems to have a conscious or subconscious prescient knowledge of his destiny.