I read this over the summer, trying to get to know the thoughts of Obama better, and came away really impressed, with the clarity, candor, humility, and just general humanity and sense of purpose. He’s someone that I’m excited to watch and learn from and follow. As much as anything, I was struck by the inclusiveness of tone in the book, and the recognition that politics has fundamental structural issues. Anyway, now that he’s President-Elect, I recommend that everyone read this book. I’m also very heartened by how his administration looks to be shaping up — it’s a smart, talented group of people who are marked by centrism and pragmatism — in a time that we all need to work together to find a new way. And the situation with Lieberman and Clinton both seem to me to indicate that Obama is truly interested in governing as an American, not as a Democrat or a Liberal or a Chicagoan or anything else.
Anyway, he’s significantly more articulate than I am, so I’ll let his words speak for themselves. There’s a fair amount of interesting stuff in this book, so apologies for the long quoting. I really do think it’s worth reading the book.
More than anything, it is that sense — that despite great differences in wealth, we rise and fall together — that we can’t afford to lose. As the pace of change accelerates, with some rising and many following, that sense of common kinship becomes harder to maintain. Jefferson was not entirely wrong to fear Hamilton’s vision for the country, for we have always been in a constant balancing act between self-interest and community, markets and democracy, the concentration of wealth and power and the opening up of opportunity. We’ve lost that balance in Washington, I think. With all of us scrambling to raise money for campaigns, with unions weakened and press distracted and lobbyists for the powerful pressing their full advantage, there are few countervailing voices to remind us of who we are and where we’ve come from, and to affirm our bonds with one another.
And this, that shows a recognition that there are real reasons for the antagonism and anger in the world, and in our country:
The growing threat, then, comes primarily from those parts of the world on the margins of the global economy where the international “rules of the road” have not taken hold — the realm of weak or failing states, arbitrary rule, corruption, and chronic violence; lands in which an overwhelming majority of the population is poor, uneducated, and cut off from the global information grid; places where the rulers fear globalization will loosen their hold on power, undermine traditional cultures, or displace indigenous institutions.
Reading it, you also get the sense that Obama understands and is close to what it means to be a family in modern America, how complicated the decisions we make every day are:
It was only upon reflection, after the trials of those years had passed and the kids had started school, that I began to appreciate what Michelle had been going through at the time, the struggles so typical of today’s working mother. For no matter how liberated I lied 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 as 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. It wasn’t just the constant scrambling between her work and the children that made Michelle’s situation so tough. It was also the fact that from her perspective she wasn’t doing either job well. This was not true, of course; her employers loved her, and everyone remarked on what a good mother she was. But I came to see that in her own mind, two visions of herself were at war with each other — the desire to be the woman her mother had been, solid, dependable, making a home and always there for her kids; and the desire to excel in her profession, to make her mark on the world and realize all those plans she’d had on the very first day that we met…
Anyway, as I’ve said before, I’m tremendously optimistic about the man that we’ve elected president, and the administration that is forming now. As much as anything, I mostly think that we have a good person, who’s not afraid to be smart and put smart people around him, in the right place to do a lot of good for our country and the world.