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The Audacity of Hope – Barack Obama

I swear – I haven’t abandoned this blog, its just that I wanted to finish the two books I was reading before I started anything else, and both books were taking more time and energy that I planned.

I wanted to read Obama’s book for awhile, but to be honest – I didn’t have the heart to read it before the election. I had a feeling I was going to like it, and if my political dreams were crushed once again, I didn’t want to know all that I had been missing. My “health” wouldn’t have been able to take it.

So, I started it sometime after the election. And have been picking through it ever since. The reason I haven’t raced through it isn’t because it’s not good. In fact, the contrary. I have been reading, and putting it down to think about what I have read. I have also been really tired lately, and my brain would rather sleep than think, so my subway rides have been filled with drool instead of hope and optimism. The other problem with reading on the train? I cry. I cry a lot. Obama is an excellent writer and the whole story isn’t a tearjerker or anything, but I can’t help but think about the way I want things to be, or what it takes to be a good father, or a husband or a young black man trying to make it in a world that has always told him he can’t. Or what it means to have a man be my president who has lived without flush toilets in Indonesia. Not that it’s a major requirement for presidency, but I am in love with the idea that this is a man who may actually understand the middle class or what struggle means.

The book is essentially a collection of his thoughts on values, family, the constitution, opportunity, politics, faith, race and globalization. What I ended up doing, since I have a hard time remembering what I read, and it took me forever to read it, was to make little tags next to portions that stood out for me. This is going to be a long post, and I apologize. Some of the phrases just stood out because I agree. Some because I disagree. Some stood out because I liked his phrasing. Some of them I may not remember why I choose them, or they may not make sense out of context, and some of the quotes aren’t even his own (noted below) – but here is what caught my eye:

  • Values are faithfully applied to the facts before us, while ideology overrides whatever facts call theory into question.
  • “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also.” – M.L. King
  • It’s not just absolute power that the Founders sought to prevent. Implicit in its structure, in the very idea of ordered liberty, was a rejection of absolute truth, the infallibility of any idea or ideology or theology or “ism,” any tyrannical consistency that might lock future generations into a single, unalterable course, or drive both majorities and minorities into the cruelties of the Inquisition, the pogrom, the gulag, or the jihad. The Founders may have trusted in God, but true to the Enlightenment spirit, they also trusted in the minds and senses that God had given them.
  • “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” – D. Moynihan
  • While I was talking to some of the teachers about the challenges they faced, one young teacher mentioned what she called the “these Kids Syndrome” – the willingness of society to find a million excuses for why “these kids” can’t learn; how “these kids come from tough backgrounds” or why “These kids are too far behind.”  “When I hear that term, it drives me nuts,” the teacher told me.  “They’re not ‘these kids.’ They’re our kids.”  How America’s economy performs in the years to come may depend largely on how well we take such wisdom to heart.
  • What’s missing is not money, but a national sense of urgency.
  • So during my first year in Senate I proposed legislation I called “Health Care for Hybrids.” The bill makes a deal with U.S. automakers: In exchange for federal financial assistance in meeting the health-care costs of retired autoworkers, the Big Three would reinvest these savings into developing more fuel-efficient vehicles.
  • In other words, The Ownership Society doesn’t even try to spread the risks and rewards of the economy among all Americans. Instead, it simply magnifies the uneven risks and rewards of today’s winner-take-all economy. If you are healthy or wealthy or just plain lucky, then you will be come more so. If you are poor or sick or catch a bad break, you will have nobody to look to for help. That’s not a recipe for sustained economic growth, or the maintenance of a strong American middle class. It’s certainly not a recipe for social cohesion. It runs counter to those values that saw we have a stake in each other’s success. It’s not who we are as a people.
  • “When you get rid of the estate tax, you’re basically handing over command of the country’s resources to people who didn’t earn it. It’s like choosing the 2020 Olympic team by picking all the children of all the winners at the 2000 Games.” – W. Buffett
  • Religion was an expression of human culture, she [Obama’s mother] would explain, not its well-spring, just one of the many ways – and not necessarily the best way – that man attempted to control the unknowable and understand the deeper truths about our lives.
  • I am suggesting that if we progressives shed some of our own biases, we might recognize the values that both religious and secular people share when it comes to the moral and material direction of our country. We might recognize that the call to sacrifice on behalf of the next generation, the need to think in terms of “though” and just “I,” resonates in religious congregations across the country. We need to take faith seriously not simply to block the religious right but to engage all persons of faith in the larger project of American renewal.
  • … I was reminded that no matter how much Christians who oppose homosexuality may claim that they hate the sin but love the sinner, such a judgment inflicts pain on good people – people who are made in the image of God, and who are often truer to Christ’s message that those who condemn them. And I was reminded that it is my obligation, not only as an elected official in a pluralistic society, but also as a Christian, to remain open to the possibility that my unwillingness to support gay marriage is misguided, just as I cannot claim infallibility in my support of abortion rights.
  • We lived in a modest house on the outskirts of town, without air-conditioning, refrigeration, or flush toilets
  • … I didn’t oppose all wars – that my grandfather had signed up for the war the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed and fought in Patton’s army. I also said that “After witnessing the carnage and destruction, the dust and the tears, I supported this Administration’s pledge to hunt down and root out those who would slaughter innocents in the name of intolerance” and would “willingly take up arms myself to prevent such tragedy from happening again.”  What I could not support was a “a dumb war, a rash war, a war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.”
  • Instead of guiding principles, we have what appear to be a series of ad hoc decisions, with dubious results. Why invade Iraq and not North Korea or Burma? Why intervene in Bosnia and not Darfur?
  • “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich”. – J.F. Kennedy
  • When we continue to spend tens of billions of dollars on weapons systems of dubious value but are unwilling to spend the money to protect highly vulnerable chemical plants in major urban centers, it becomes more difficult to get other countries to safeguard their nuclear power plants. When we detain suspects indefinitely without trial or ship them off in the dead of night to countries where we know they’ll be tortured, we weaken our ability to press for human rights and the rule of law in despotic regimes.  When we, the richest country on earth and the consumer of 25 percent of the world’s fossil fuels, can’t bring ourselves to raise fuel-efficiency stands  by even a small fraction so as to weaken our dependence on Saudi oil fields and slow global warming, we should expect to have a hard time convincing China not to deal with oil suppliers like Iran or Sudan – and shouldn’t count on much cooperation in getting them to address environmental problems that visit our shores.
  • Wanting to share the good news, I called Michelle from my D.C. office and starting explaining the significance of the bill – how shoulder-to-air missiles could threaten small commercial air travel if they fell into the wrong hands, how small-arms stockpiles left over from the Cold War continued to feed conflict across the globe. Michelle cut me off. “We have ants.” “Huh?”” I found ants in the kitchen. And in the bathroom upstairs.” “Okay…””I need you to buy some ant traps on your way home tomorrow. I’d get them myself, but I’ve got to take the girls to their doctor’s appointment after school. Can you do that for me?” “Right. Ant traps.” “Ant traps. Don’t forget, okay, honey? And buy more than one. Listen, I need to go into a meeting. Love you.” I hung up the receiver, wondering if Ted Kennedy or John McCain bought ant traps on the way home from work.
  • I invariably left the butter out after breakfast and forgot to twist the little tie around the bread bag; Michelle could rack up parking tickets like nobody’s business.
  • For three magical months the two of us fussed and fretted over our new baby, checking the crib to make sure she was breathing, coaxing smiles from her, singing her songs and taking so many pictures that we started to wonder if we were damaging her eyes.
  • For no matter how liberated I liked to see myself as – no matter how much I told myself that Michelle and I were equal partners, and that her dreams and ambitions were important as my own – the fact was that when children showed up, it was Michelle and not I who was expected to make the necessary adjustments. Sure, I helped, but it was always on my terms, on my schedule. Meanwhile, she was the one who had to put her career on hold. She was the one who had to make sure that the kids were fed and bathed every night. If Malia or Sasha got sick or the babysitter failed to show up, it was she who, more often than not, had to get on the phone to cancel a meeting at work.
  • In all this I am encouraged by Michelle, although there are times when I get the sense that I’m encroaching on her space – that by my absences I may have forfeited certain rights to interfere in the world she has built.
  • “You can’t handle goody bags,” she said. “Let me explain the goody bag thing. You have to go into the party store and choose the bags. Then you have to choose what to put in the bags, and what is in the boys’ bags has to be different from what is in the girls’ bags. You’d walk in there and wander around the aisles for an hour, and then your head would explode.” (Pale Nerd: Okay, I am going to explain why I love this quote. I love the fact that I (and Michelle Obama) would trust this man with the fate of the free world, but know that goody bags could be his downfall. I also love that she completely understands the importance of a good goody bag.)
  • A few weeks later, we got word that the Kerry people wanted me to speak at the convention, although it was not yet clear in what capacity. One afternoon, as I drove back from Springfield to Chicago for an evening campaign event, Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill called to deliver the news. After I hung up, I turned to my driver, Mike Signator. “I guess this is pretty big,” I said. Mike nodded. “You could say that.”

I am sure that he will let me down. I don’t even agree with all of his ideals. I am sure that he can’t possibly mean or accomplish everything he says. But the idea, just the idea that this is something he at least claims he wants to do, and that he was elected gives me the audacity of hope. And for that, I am grateful.

I can’t wait for Tuesday (the inauguration). And I will probably save “Dreams of my Father” for 2012.

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