The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

audacity-of-hopeA whole lot of dog-eared pages and little hot pink sticky notes litter the pages of my library copy of then-Senator Obama’s second book. Comprised of nine chapters, a prologue, and an epilogue, The Audacity of Hope is two parts political/social commentary and one part personal reflection over his time in the political arena — from a failed run for Illinois state senator to the U.S. Senate.

“Whether we’re from red states or blue states, we feel in our gut the lack of honesty, rigor, and common sense in our policy debates, and dislike what appears to be a continuous menu of false or cramped choices. Religious or secular, black white, or brown, we sense — correctly — that the nation’s most significant challenges are being ignored, and that if we don’t change course soon, we may be the first generation in a very long time that leaves behind a weaker and more fractured America than the one we inherited.” (pg. 9)

The prologue, written with a sort of in-your-face and plainly stated manner, details what my AP Government class and those of my peers across America will tell you: the political arena in America has divided us, pitted us against one another, and then routinely forgotten us. And we, the products of “no child left behind,” are facing a future of being at odds with one another and a staggering, ever-growing debt toll.

One of the passages I flagged with my bright pink sticky note was Obama’s portrayal of how “in the world’s greatest deliberative body, no one is listening” (pg. 15). It’s a harsh and upsetting reality that Obama says with very little pause before moving on to his views of the two dominating parties — the Republicans and Democrats. True to bipartisan portrayal –however true or false this may be – Obama throws a bone to the GOP, saying that not all Republicans subscribe to the Bush Doctrine.

“In both the House and the Senate, and in state capitals across the country, there are those who cling to more traditional conservative virtues of temperance and restraint — men and women who recognize that piling up debt to finance tax cuts for the wealthy is irresponsible, that deficit reeducation can’t take place on the backs on the poor, that the separation of church and state protects the church as well as the state, that conservation and conservatism don’t have to conflict, and that foreign policy should be based on facts and not wishful thinking.

But these Republicans are not the ones who have driven the debate over the past six years. Instead of the “compassionate conservatism” that George Bush promised in his 2000 campaign, what has characterized the ideological core of today’s GOP is absolutism, not conservatism. There is the absolutism of the free market, an ideology of no taxes, no regulation, no safety net — indeed, no government beyond what’s required to protect private property and provide for the national defense.”(pg. 37)

But he quickly slips back into bashing Bush — which I’m fully in favor of — but after awhile, it started to grate on my nerves and I wished he would stop playing good cop, bad cop. True, he does point out how “the Democratic Party has become the party of reaction” because “we lose elections and hope for the courts to foil Republican plans. We lose the courts and wait for a White House scandal.” (pg. 39) But, overall, the chapter on Republicans and Democrats reads like a whining schoolchild who settles for everyone’s wrong when he doesn’t get his way.

I actually didn’t flag anything in the chapter entitled “Values,” and I honestly don’t remember anything from that chapter. I did enjoy “Our Constitution,” but the passages I flagged had more to do with humor — how during a filibuster, a Senator “can choose to read the entire seven-hundred-page defense authorization bill, line by line, into the record, or relate aspects of the bill to the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the flight of the hummingbird, or the Atlanta phone book” (pg. 80) — than content, except for the fact that despite “all our disagreements we would be hard pressed to find a conservative or liberal in America today, whether Republican or Democrat, academic or layman, who doesn’t subscribe to the basic set of individual liberties identified by the Founders and enshrined in our Constitution and our common law…”

Then there’s “Politics” and “Opportunity,” both of which are interesting but have a very sporadic nature because rather than piecing together all of his thoughts on universal health care, his thoughts are spread throughout the pages so you don’t know quite exactly what Obama believes. In “Opportunity,” he details how a shift towards globalization and how horrible our public schools are, but how Americans want and need the government to guide them towards the new land of opportunity.

“Americans are willing to compete with the world. We work harder than the people of any other wealthy nation. We are willing to tolerate more economic instability and are willing to take more personal risks to get ahead. But we can only compete if our government makes the investments that give us a fighting chance — and if we know that our families have some net beneath which they cannot fall. That’s a bargain with the American people worth making.” (pg. 187)

Faith, however, is what I believe is the best part of The Audacity of Hope because in it Obama details with so few know — the evangelical Christians during the time of the Constitution’s formation actually advocated the separation of church and state.

“Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation on nonbelievers” {pg. 218}, and like the founding fathers representing the original thirteen colonies, we will never reach an accord on which God we are under. Benjamin Franklin represented a state founded by Quakers, Massachusetts was founded by Puritans, and Maryland was a state full of Catholics; yet, people seem to forget that. And I loved how Obama reexamined his own faith, his own inflection of his Christian beliefs on those he helps govern in the chapter on Faith because this is quite possibly the most human he has appeared to me ever. I’m glad to see that the “leader of the free world” has allowed himself to question what he knows, that he is “continually open to new revelations.”

“As I spoke to her 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 a pain on good people – people who are made in the image of God, and who are often truer to Chris’s message than 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…I must admit that I may have been infected with society’s prejudices and predilections and attributed them to God; that Jesus’ call to love one another might demand a different conclusion…I don’t believe such doubts make me a bad Christian. I believe they make me human…” (pg. 223)

The chapter on race read like a badly shortened regurgitation of his first book, Dreams from My Father, and family seemed like a elongated version of both his thoughts on race and his acknowledgment page. “The World Beyond Our Borders” was fairly interesting, but surprisingly remained sticky note-less.

At lot of what he says makes me think he is too much of an optimist, that he doesn’t see American politics for what it really is — a system that has not only forgotten it’s roots but forgotten the people it’s supposed to work for. But, overall, there were several times where I found myself nodding in agreement, and I am very excited to have him as my president (since I can’t have Hillary). The Audacity of Hope provides a lot of insight into his beliefs, even if it does come across as a bit too calculated.

Others’ Thoughts:

Book Mentioned:

  • Obama, Barack. The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. New York: Crown, 2006. Print. 362 pgs. ISBN: 0307237699. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Crown Publishing. Retrieved: March 1, 2009.
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3 thoughts on “The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

  1. I’m really flattered that you put me as your “Balance of Opinion,” Christine! That’s been one of my favorite features on your blog – it’s a much more objective approach towards reviewing and gives readers multiple perspectives. Which is totally awesome. And I’m overall impressed with the level of thought and detail that goes into every one of your reviews as well. Keep up the great work!!

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  2. @ Serena: See, I fixed on them. I don’t know why; maybe because he’s always portrayed himself as above the fray but his book shows he’s no different?

    @ Riot: I’m blushing. Seriously. I’m really glad that “Balance of Opinion” has caught on in the book blogging world as, like you said, I think it is a much more objective approach to reviews. And you’re more thank welcome for the link; I enjoy reading your take on The Audacity of Hope .

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