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February 2008

Book: The Audacity of Hope

Author: Barack Obama
Started: 20 Jan 2008
Finished: 17 Feb 2008
375 p / 29 d
13 p/d

I finished this a week ago, but am just getting around to posting about it. It was time for a non-fiction book. I had read Obama’s first book back in late April / early May. It was good. But it was mainly about Obama’s youth and search for his roots, etc. This second book is actually about his thoughts on politics. I had wanted to finish reading it before the Washington caucuses, but I didn’t make it. Then I wanted to make it by Super Tuesday. I didn’t make that either. Nor did I make it before the Patomic primaries. But I did finish before Wisconsin. Go me!

Anyway, this was another good book. It did not give super deep insight into specific policies. He has actually been more specific in recent speeches. This was more about his general political philosophy. A lot of the moving beyond left and right, being pragmatic and looking for solutions that work, etc.

I still have a fundamental difference that I struggle with which I have mentioned before. I think he will be a good president in the sense of leadership and tone and changing overall perceptions, etc. But on policy there is probably little I agree with him. Fundamentally, Obama is indeed a believer that government is a good thing, a potential source of solutions, whereas I see it as a necessary evil, to be used only when there is no other choice, and then only reluctantly and in the most limited form possible. And this is independent of “what works”. There may be many cases where a government program would be the most effective way to achieve a goal that I agree with… but being effective does not make it the RIGHT way to solve the problem. Sometimes the right way to solve a problem is not the most efficient way. Sometimes a solution will solve a problem, but do it in a way that requires things that are just wrong to happen in order to make it happen. And then how do you balance that? And sometimes you just have to live with a problem, because the only effective solutions would require doing unacceptable things. It is all about the classic “do the ends justify the means” question.

Sigh. Anyway, if you take as a given that government is not inherently a bad thing, which unfortunately both major parties these days do, then I think the way Obama reasons is very reasonable. He shows a great deal of open mindedness to consider the views of those who disagree with him. And I think this is by far the most critical aspect of Obama that makes him appealing to me, and to many people. And at the same time greatly frightens the left wing of the Democratic party.

The political debate for almost 16 years now has been typified on both sides by the increasing view that the people on the other side are not reasonable people with differing opinions, but rather the people on the other side are stupid, malicious and evil. There was not healthy respectful debate on issues, but rather vilification of those who disagree. This is horribly unhealthy.

Throughout his book, Obama time after time shows respect and understanding of Republican positions on various issues. He talks about some areas where Republicans over the years have done things right and Democrats got it wrong. He talks about various individiuals on the other side of the isle with respect. Not agreement. But respect. He has positive words for Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush and a variety of others. He off course has a lot of positive words for a lot of Democrats as well. But it is not black and white. It s not we are good, they are evil.

And there is room for compromise and working together.

And this is a very positive thing. It may drive a few aspects of the Democratic party crazy. Those folks who are saying “No! We need to fight!” And in the end, it may end up being somewhat naive. You of course need two to tango, and unless there are partners on the other side that are also willing to work together, it won’t happen. And of course, when you compromise, you end up with something that isn’t quite what either side wants.

Fundamentally, I’m quite fine with that. I am scared of a world where the left wing Democrats get everything they want just as much as I am of a world where the right wing Republicans get everything they want. We’ve kind of seen the right wing Republican world these last few years. We need to come back to the middle, not swing the pendulum all the way to the other side.

Having said that, despite all the centrist talk, looking at actual policies and such, Obama is VERY liberal. Way too liberal for me on most issues. I am hoping though that combined with his openness toward working with the other side, and the plain realities of how difficult it is to get ANYTHING done in Washington, than what an Obama presidency would actually produce would be closer to the center than the left. And so would be capable of undoing a lot of the damage of the last administration, but without producing TOO MUCH new damage.

I just want to end this though by quoting one passage in the book that made me laugh out loud. It is part of the story of Obama’s first meeting with President George W Bush:

“Come over here for a second,” he said, leading me off to one side of the room. “You know,” he said quietly, “I hope you don’t mind me giving you a piece of advice.”

“Not at all, Mr. President.”

He nodded. “You’ve got a bright future,” he said. “very bright. But I’ve been in this town awhile and, let me tell you, it can be tough. When you get a lot of attention like you’ve been getting, people start gunnin’ for ya. And it won’t necessarily just be coming from my side, you understand. From yours, too. Everybody’ll be waiting for you to slip, know what I mean? So watch yourself.”

“Thanks for the advice, Mr. President.”

“All right. I gotta get going. You know, me and you got something in common.”

“What’s that?”

“We both had to debate Alan Keyes. That guy’s a piece of work, isn’t he?”

And yes, that Alan Keyes *is* a piece of work. Something that even George W. Bush and Barack Obama can agree on with confidence.