Is it possible for a "skinny guy with a funny name", whose blood relatives range from some "who resemble Margaret Thatcher and others who could pass for Bernie Mac", to be elected President of the United States? If Americans are ready to judge a man on the quality of his character and not the color of his skin, the time could be right for Barack Obama. The Chicago-based lawyer/professor/senator has been acclaimed as the Democratic "rock star" for his eloquent, passionate, and thoughtful presence that crosses ideological boundaries. And this remains evident in his recent The Audacity of Hope, which has zoomed to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.
Following his personal memoir, Dreams from My Father, Obama has firmly established himself as the most literate politician since Pulitzer Prize-winning John F. Kennedy. His initial book was most surprising for its revealing intimacy; this time he shares personal insights into the great issues of the day and how our government actually operates. With poetic prose well-grounded in common sense, Obama examines the political landscape and seeks humane solutions for a wide-ranging array of issues. A blast of fresh air arising from these polarized times, Obama's even-handed approach and articulate rhetoric offer renewed hope. But this is no romantic vision of Camelot; Obama chronicles the challenges and realities of the political system in detail.
Politicians and pundits on both sides of the aisle are bound to cite passages from Obama's chapter on "Politics". Crediting the characters of his fellow senators, he describes how likable they are and how he's found each to be intelligent, thoughtful, and hard-working and dedicated to looking out for the best interests of their states. He cites the great storytelling skills of both Ted Kennedy and Trent Lott, the sharp wits of both Kent Conrad and Richard Shelby, and the genuine warmth of both Debbie Stabenow and Mel Martinez, for instance.
Although it's generally known that Congress must wrestle with far more factors than imagined with each issue, weighing funding, pork barrel amendments, and political practicalities, Obama illustrates these vividly. He also lifts the curtain behind the scenes to reveal the complexities that lie beyond what is generally covered by CNN on legislative votes: the nature of political ambition and the even stronger factor of fear. When you consider that just one "loss" can result in total humiliation and the ends of their careers, it explains why professional politicians often tread cautiously in public.
Most of us realize that issues are never as simple as radio talk show personalities make them out to be, and Obama demonstrates over and over in his book that he's widely read, a keen student of history, and respectful of various points of view as he seeks viable solutions. Over 362 pages weave observations, anecdotes, and background material into chapters that range from the Constitution and political parties to faith, race, and family to the world outside U.S. borders. Naturally, the situation in Iraq as well as terrorism is of primary concern today, and Obama tackles it thoughtfully:
"We know that the battle against international terrorism is at once an armed struggle and a contest of ideas, that our long-term security depends on both a judicious projection of military power and increased cooperation with other nations, and that addressing the problems of global poverty and failed states is vital to our nation's interests rather than just a matter of charity. But follow most of our foreign policy debates, and you might believe that we have only two choices: belligerence or isolationism."
There's far more explication of this and other issues throughout The Audacity of Hope, a readable book that introduces Illinois' junior senator up close and provides a personal tour of Congress and the political process. His uplifting prose reveals a thoughtful man who sincerely strives to make this a better world; a man well aware of his roots and himself, yet one who remains humble and self-effacing. Even people who don't agree with his political views will discover that they will respect his manner and approach. The book does offer a great deal of hope: that there truly is a U.S. politician capable of being a "uniter and not a divider", if only America is ready to elect a former "A" student from Harvard Law School, and someone who can write his own speeches.
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