Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Audacity of Hope

Sorry for the delinquency in posting lately...a lot of things have been going on.

Anyway, I'm currently reading Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope on audiobook right now (read by Obama). I avoided it for a while because I thought the title was schmalzty, and I thought it would be a preachy, mushy-headed plea for change and optimism in American politics.

Turns out it's actually pretty good, and the content surprised me. It's one part interesting civics lesson, one part a biography of Obama's political history, and one part policy proposals for improving America. And it's good. Sometimes I get the sense that he's telling me what I want to hear, and sometimes I wonder the extent to which the words are his own, but more often I find that he seems honest, articulate, and engaging.

Obama is unapologetic as he describes his liberal views, but talks about how the political climate has become more polarized and less substantive, and about how this is harmful to the political process and ultimately to the American citizen. I did wonder about this thesis, though. Obama taught law, and seems to know a lot about American history. But he never really convinces me that politics haven't always been extremely polarized, and that there's anything really different about the current climate. Any student of history could probably make a convincing case that politics in Washington were just as full of fluff and rancor 100 years ago as they are today, if not more so.

His actual policy proposals are a mixed bag. He remains in a maddening valley between vague and specific. Some proposals I like, such as increasing salaries for teachers and funding for basic science, but such things cost money and he never talks about cutting any other programs (at least that I've seen, and I'm about 3/4 of the way through the book). Other specifics seem silly, such as his energy policy. He wants "real funding" for alternative energy sources, proposing that 1% of oil company revenue be used to research alternative fuels. Why exactly should a particular industry be forced by the government to fund research that would replace the core of their business model?

Obama is best when he's talking about his personal history in politics, from his various state and national Senate races to his swearing in and personal interactions with other politicians, such as President Bush. He talks about how he disagrees strongly with Bush's policies, but still finds him a likable man who honestly thinks he's doing what he thinks is best for the country.

Throughout the book, Obama reiterates the message that both liberals and conservatives have become increasingly polarized by their dogmatism, and he repeatedly urges politicians and citizens to focus on substance and look at both political candidates and policy decisions in their totality, rather than vilifying them in a reactionary way. And on that point, his message certainly does resonate.

Even though it is a mixed bag and I'm still cautious about how authentic Obama is, I'd recommend the book, and based on reading it, I'd be more likely to vote for him in the Fall.

1 comment:

Jill said...

I'm trying my darndest to get rid of a book as soon as I read it. I either re-sell it on Amazon, donate it to a library or give it to a friend. After reading Obama's TAOH, I gave it away.

Reading your review reminded me of how much I loved this book. Maybe I'll have to ask for it back to put back up on the old bookshelf.