OBAMA FAMILY PORTRAIT
In this chapter Obama talks about his own experience growing up without a biological father present in the home and his present married life with Michelle and their two children, Malia, born on the fourth of July, 1998 and later Sasha born June 10, 2001. He contrasts his personal life, as he has done often in this book with his experience outside the home and with learned studies and statistics.
The fact that he only knew his biological father for a few weeks in his preadolescence years left an emotional hole in his life. This was true despite the fact he lived with his mother and her new husband in Indonesia for four years. However his stepfather, while a responsible man, was a distant one and sometimes a troubled person by the political realities of Indonesia at that time.
He also spent his later years with his grandfather, Stanley, and his grandmother Madelyn. Obama tells us that his grandparents provided a stable and loving home. Madelyn was away from the home much of the time due to fact she worked as an administrative officer at a bank. Stanley had a succession of jobs that he never succeeded at. While he and Stanley had a close relationship it was not the same as if his biological father was present in the home.
When Barack married Michelle they were both Harvard trained lawyers with good jobs. Barack had political ambitions which Michelle was doubtful about but went along with. Later when their first child was born this put added strains on the family life of a working couple, both lawyers, and one with political interests. However they were fortunate as Michelle’s mother worked close by and limited her hours so she could help the family. Later, though, when Barack’s political duties called him to Springfield Illinois, the state capital, and later to Washington D.C. the strain on the family caused by his absence was increased. However Michelle and the children adjusted to the give and take of having a politician father and their ties remained strong. Michelle and he made many sacrifices in family life and work life to make things work.
Obama points out that for most Americans marriage and family life is the most popular way of life. By the age of 45, 89% of women and 83% of men have been married at least once and married couples head 67% of households. So marriage is perceived to be the best way for personal relationships to bond and for child rearing.
Still 50% of all first marriages end in divorce and although the divorce rate is declining there is still a significant number of one parent households with children. Beyond that some people prefer not to marry but to cohabitate and have children. In 2006 36% of children lived in households without their biological father.
In the case of African American woman the marriage rate has fallen from 62% to 36% and 34% of all African American children live in single parent households as compared with 23% of white children.
Statistically married people live happier, wealthier and longer lives. Children of single parent families are more likely to drop out of school and become teen parents. Also children who live with their biological mother and father do better in school and life than those who live in step families or families that cohabitate.
Teen pregnancy has dropped 28% since 1990 but still 25% of all out of wedlock pregnancies are by teens. And teen mothers are more likely to have more out of wedlock children as they get older. Also teen sex education advocating both abstinence and methods of contraception has helped in avoiding unwanted pregnancies and lowered the abortion rate.
Marriage education workshops help to keep marriages together and encourage unmarried couples to form a more lasting relationship on an official basis.
Obama advocates that the biologically related family is the best way for families to survive in societies where often both parents work to meet financial necessities and see that their children do well in school and grow up to be responsible citizens.
For those families that can’t afford preschool or babysitters and other necessities, then the government should assist and make it possible for their children to graduate from high school and go on to a trade school or college. Also the government should see that other social needs are met like health care for all in order to create a more stable society.
Barack Obama: The Audacity Of Hope. Chapter Eight: The World Beyond Our Borders. Book Review. Foreign Policy And Its Evolution From Isolationist To Globalization.
In this chapter Obama discusses the history of foreign policy. He notes that George Washington counseled against foreign entanglements. Indeed we mostly didn’t during the late Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. Jefferson made the Louisiana Purchase and the Country was concentrated on expanding its borders from coast to coast. In 1898 we fought the Spanish American War and annexed Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines. President Monroe had declared the Monroe Doctrine regarding foreign intervention in the affairs of Central and South America. However America remained distant from World affairs until World War I. Then we became a World power and took our place on the World stage. President Wilson played a major if not a decisive role in the Treaty of Versailles and formed the League Of Nations but our Senate failed to ratify the treaty and we never became a member.
After World War I we withdrew from World affairs and let our military languish. During this time we saw the rise of Fascism in Japan and Germany and Communism in Russia.
World War II led us back on the World stage. Afterwards We took an active role in the rebuilding of Germany and other countries in Europe and also Japan. We formed security and trade alliances around the World to contain the Soviet Union and the threat of World Communism. We watched as colonialism faded and our European Allies turned to Democratic Socialism while we remained a Capitalistic Democracy. The World divided into to The Democratic Nations, Communist Nations and the Third World composed usually of the poorest of nations.
We had a blue water navy which kept the sea lanes open and we built a massive military force armed with nuclear weapons to keep the threat of Communism at bay.
Up until this time the threats to our country came from other countries. The Soviet Union collapsed from our external pressure and the internal flaws of Communism. The Soviet Union being the greatest World producer of oil saw the price of oil drop to about $10 a barrel and the Soviet Union no longer had the economic resources to sustain its empire and it collapsed no longer to be a super power.
During the 1990’s under Clinton we were the World’s sole superpower, but failed to take adequate note of the rise of terrorist enemies who were not organized on a country basis. They fought an asymmetric type of warfare different from the clash of armies like we saw in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. We had to change our military and intelligence services to confront the threat of bombing and killing against randomly selected targets.
In addition to terrorism we now face a new nuclear threat by rogue states like North Korea and Iran who in the case of Iran also support terrorist groups.
We are the sole superpower in the World, in 2006 our defense budget was more than the next 30 countries combined, and the world looks to us to solve its problems. Under Bush II we had a go it alone attitude which alienated many of our long time allies.
Obama in 2006 saw the future of Foreign Policy as we being the World leader but we would seek the consensus of our Allies and others in any action we undertook military or otherwise. When action was under taken we would try to form a consortium of countries involved in the problem as we have done in dealing with N. Korea and Iran on nuclear problems and with our Allies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Since the World is a much smaller place now because of technologies like the internet and jet travel we cannot rely on the two oceans to protect us from foreign violence. Also with the advent of Globalization the World is more united on an economic basis. Obama sees the rising economic power of China as an opportunity to broaden trade and improve the welfare of other people. However he notes that billions still live on a subsistence level without adequate schooling, medical services, sanitation, food and other services we take for granted in the West. That is the challenge to bring these poor countries into the orbit of the trading nations of the World so they can improve their livelihood and also make the World a safer place to live. It is in the back alleys of these third world countries that terrorist plots are hatched and because of unsanitary conditions new diseases and viruses’ emanate that threaten the rest of the World including the United States. (About 20% of the World controls 82% of the wealth and the lowest 40% share about 5 or 6 %.)
Barack Obama: The Audacity Of Hope. Reclaiming The American Dream; Chapter Seven: RACE; Book Review. Racism Leads To Joblessness Which leads to Gangs, Drugs, Crime And The Decline Of The Inner City.
BLACK MEN IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
In this chapter Obama looks at the current status of race in America. Because of the 1966 Civil Rights Act and programs like Affirmative Action and the Unearned Income Tax Credit and other programs Blacks have made economic advances as well as other minorities most notably Latinos. However while legal equality has mostly been achieved by Blacks social acceptance and equality has lagged behind.
While many Blacks have become educated professionals and moved to the suburbs the majority of Blacks are stuck in the inner cities where crime, drugs, unemployment, teenage pregnancy and childbirth mortality rates are still much higher in comparison with whites and other minorities.
The inner cities are declining because the blue collar manufacturing jobs that once supported the blacks who lived there are vanishing as a consequence of Globalization and the industries still here have modernized so they need fewer workers to manufacture their products. This is why unemployment is so high in the inner cities and as a consequence a feeling of hopelessness exists among young Blacks. This leads to gangs, drugs, crime, teenage pregnancy, and a high rate of school drop outs. Thus this has become a self repeating downward cycle which at the present has become acute.
Blacks are often the last hired and the first fired. As a Senator he is called to vote on bills making it easier for businesses to hire undocumented workers or for undocumented workers to become documented. However when he looks at the statistics on Black unemployment he questions his conservative colleagues why they sponsor such bills. The answer is that their small business supporters prefer illegal or undocumented workers because they are cheaper and since they are not citizens, less apt to assert their rights for benefits when they are injured or apply for unemployment benefits if they are discharged.
Obama believes that laws compelling employers to pay equal pay to undocumented or non citizen employees would help alleviate Black unemployment. (One has to ask if Blacks have a competitive advantage of citizenship, speaking the language and being born in the United States why they would not take the available jobs that Latin’s and others come long distances to take, far from their cultural roots and with the handicap of not speaking English?)
Obama believes that by limiting undocumented workers, continuing and strengthening the unearned income tax credit, providing better schools and more diligent police work these would go a long way towards eliminating black inner city poverty and the downward spiral it causes.
Over time the poverty in the inner cities would be eliminated and the cost to society would be less. At the present time inner city unemployment stands about one third for Black men. Also one in three Black men can expect to go through the criminal justice system at some time in their lives. While some of these men are hardened criminals most are not and if they had an opportunity to find a job with sufficient income to support a family the other problems would decrease in time. It is well established that the two parent nuclear family is the most successful at raising children that grow up to lead successful lives, marry and raise children of their own. He believes given a chance Blacks would better themselves. He believes racism even with all the protections against it is the cause of Black unemployment as well as the willingness of undocumented immigrants to work for less are a significant cause of Black unemployment.
(This is hard to believe when the writer is half Black went to Harvard Law and became President of the United States. Perhaps he is different from most Blacks whose ancestors arrived here by force after being captured by Black raiders and then sold to British merchant seaman for transport to the United States and elsewhere where they wee resold into slavery. Also Obama’s parents did not have roots in slavery. One was a white PhD and the other a Black Harvard trained economist from Kenya, neither they or their ancestors had slavery in their past but came here of their own free will looking for an education or a better life. Also he was raised in Hawaii by white grandparents who saw to it that he went to an elite college preparatory school in Hawaii where there is little racism in a melting pot society.
He came of age after most of the legal restrictions against racism had been won by others. So in this chapter he is omitting cultural factors in assessing black unemployment like Blacks will not accept work, usually menial, that Latinos and other immigrants will or their ancestors never came here voluntarily looking for opportunity and work but were brought here by force after being sold into slavery by competing tribes in their homeland. Also there is a a belief held by some Blacks that current society owes Blacks for the their ancestors slavery. However they never stop to consider that over six hundred thousand Northern soldiers died in the Civil War and that hundreds of thousands lost limbs or were wounded in other ways. So any alleged debt, if there was a debt was paid in blood long ago. Other groups notably the Irish in the 1800’s and more recently the Jewish, Koreans and the Americans of Japanese descent have survived and prospered after severe discrimination.
The psychological blows to the Black communities self esteem brought on first by slavery and then the subsequent decades of racism and now that current society is responsible for there welfare are also part of the explanation why statistically Blacks are at the bottom of the heap.)
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution are the basis for religious independence in the United States. However when it comes to religion citizens hold differing opinions on how the government should deal with certain practices. Some want school prayer, others prefer marriage to only be between heterosexual couples and others would make abortion illegal. This creates divisions among voters, some who are described as social conservatives who generally follow Evangelical Christian principles or conservative Catholic principles.
More religiously liberal or secular citizens may or may not have different opinions regarding these highly emotionally charged issues which include prayer in government supported education or medical care involving the distribution of contraceptive information and devices as well as abortion and abortion information. These problems find their way into politics and create another dividing line between voters in addition to those who are economic liberals or conservative economically.
Those who are social liberals are not always economic liberals and vice versa. Obama states that he was raised as a Christian although his mother and grandparents were not regular church goers. His father, whom he saw little of, was raised a Muslim but by the time he married Obama’s mother he was a confirmed Atheist. However his mother looked at religion in a detached anthropological way rather than with any fervent commitment.
When he went to Chicago to work as a community organizer among church groups he saw that religion was a sustaining part of the life of many people he met. Eventually he too accepted Christianity as a part of his life and was baptized. However he also took note of the fact that Christianity accepted the good as well as the bad hoping to better the lives of each through faith.
Alan Keyes a, Harvard educated black man whom the Republican Party selected to run against him when he ran for the Senate, was both a social conservative, an economic conservative and with strongly held Christian beliefs that permitted no other point of view other than the religious values he held.
While Mr. Obama is against gay marriage he believes that the Constitution permits abortion and therefore it is legal and should remain so. This belief was heresy to Mr. Keyes who said Obama’s faith was adulterated and he was not a true Christian.
Thus when conservative Christians assert themselves politically to instill their values in our laws it creates friction between the more tolerant Liberals who believe that Constitutional principles tie our hands on issues like school prayer or abortion. Thus while faith is an important part of American life for Democrats as well as Republicans there are those who would use its tenets for partisan purpose to undermine our Constitution which is a secular document which also permits the establishment of any lawful religion and the right to the free exercise of one’s lawful religious beliefs.
However Church and State are separate and one should not meddle in the legitimate affairs of the other. The Constitution was intended to keep religion separate from government after the founders had witnessed the wars and turmoil religious differences had created in Europe and from which many citizens or there forbears had emigrated to the United States to escape and find religious freedom
Barack Obama: The Audacity Of Hope. Chapter Five: Opportunity; Part Two. Solutions For The Future: Education, Science and Technology, Energy Independence, Infrastructure and Health.
With the advent of a complex industrialized society government was needed not only to invest in but also to regulate the economy.
Financial markets grew exponentially and the products they sold could be a two edge sword. They were a necessary method of raising capital for business expansion and they also provided a way for the average person to have a stake in the economic life of the country by stock purchases. However the down side was that stock prices could be manipulated by dishonest operators. The value of a company could be distorted by fraud or the average investor could be disadvantaged by insider information. To make the stock market more efficient and free, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Securities and Exchange Commission to regulate stock market activity.
Also while our industrial economy was based on free market principles other regulations were needed to curb illegal activities to protect American consumers such as the Pure Food and Drug Act, the Meat Inspection Act and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to name a few.
The government also is needed to invest in areas where the private economy is unwilling (i.e. The Tennessee Valley Authority or rural electrification) or unable to invest (i.e. the national highway system).
The free market also needs reasonable regulation to avoid bubbles and other glitches in the system.
With the rise of giant businesses came the need for unions to represent the interests of labor. Government recognized and regulated Labor and government participated in creating humane working conditions with adequate compensation and benefits. The result: a large and viable middle class, the corner stone of Democracy.
Also the government created the Unemployment Insurance System to ease the ups and downs of the business cycle and the creative destruction of Capitalism. Obliviously workers had to eat and children had to be cared for while adjustments in our free market economy took place.
Many of these changes took place because of the Great Depression. President Franklin Roosevelt faced with the specter of the rise of Communism, Socialism and Fascism in Europe spearheaded these changes and can be credited with our country remaining a Capitalistic Democracy while other countries became Fascist dictatorships, toyed with adopting Communism or became Social Democracies. Thus social changes were needed as a result of the disruption caused by the Great Depression and the propensity for wealth to accumulate disproportionately.
These things helped in the past but the World is not standing still. New challenges like Globalization and technological change now face us. Capital migrates to where it is most useful; many manufacturing companies have left the United States in pursuit of cheap labor. Heath care costs keep rising and we continue to import far more that we export.
Republicans believe lower taxes, less regulation and a smaller safety net will solve our problems. Solutions they gained in the Eighties. Democrats are trying to preserve the gains they made during the New Deal. Unfortunately none of these solutions by themselves will work anymore. We cannot compete against India and China by cutting taxes, eliminating regulation and without a social safety net or else we would end up with smog choked cities polluted rivers and people begging and dying in the streets. That is not the America we want for ourselves or our children.
Lincoln once said,”We will do collectively, through our government, only those things we cannot do as well or at all, individually or privately.” In other words we should be guided by what works.
Some government investments that can make us more competitive in the Global Economy are: education, science and technology, infrastructure, health care and energy independence. Throwing money alone at these things alone will not work.
In education the parents as well teachers and pupils must be motivated and pupils in particular must be able to see that, if they study hard, a good job and a better life will be their reward. However sticking to the same old system with its protections for the people in charge and no accountability for student improvement will not work.
Obama sees that making education work for everybody is a principle way of making our society more competitive globally. Also we must keep our scientific and technological edge by aiding education and funding grants for research in our schools and colleges.
A well maintained and up to date infrastructure is a no brainer.
We must gain energy independence if we are to eliminate the import deficient and stop sending money to OPEC countries some of whom are enemies. Solving this problem will also help us reduce defense costs necessary to protect our sources and supply lines for oil.
Finally a sound health system where all have equal access will guarantee that our citizenry will be healthy and fit for work and the enjoyment of life.
Thus if we focus on improving in these key areas, education, science and technology, energy independence, infrastructure and health we will be globally more competitive in the years to come.