Barack Obama is a good man and a great speaker. The ideas professed in the beginning and the end of his recent, “Hope” are leaning in a revolutionary and new direction for politics, yet this book is proof positive that a lot still needs to change for politicians to achieve a civil tone, to bridge the divide between parties, and to progress instead of fight.
Obama tries to bridge the gap
Throughout the book, Obama writes in eloquent, yet not too stuffy speech, as he describes personal anecdotes, his rise in politics, and his projection for what America should look like. He begins with an open approach to government from the perspective of a layman or a non-politician, but as he continues, explaining the campaign and some of his experiences as civil servant in a “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” way, a biased, un-opened viewpoint reveals itself.
Obama’s voice is clear and his message is populist, which may strike a chord with many voters out there who feel disenfranchised by the two main political parties. This voice is new and promising, but the ideas he writes about are old and played out. The author may sound like a novel thinker, but his concepts betray that: it’s apparent that Obama believes that a large centralized government is the answer to nearly everything and the few political elites in Washington know better than everyone else in the country. For this, I was extremely disappointed.
In my reading, I was hoping to find a blueprint for way to get beyond the partisan name-calling and childish behavior in American politics, and with Obama’s tone that happened, but I ended up hearing the same old partisan story: Republican policies are dividing the country into haves and have-nots and Clinton ushered in a great economy, end to class warfare, and peace on Earth. This dichotomy is based on some valid information and the author’s point of view can be understood, but Obama is unaware of, or ignores some obvious data and some unique ideas that would probably change his viewpoint.
Obama praises centralized government saying that governmental aid in the arenas of science and infrastructure have led to some important monuments (The Hoover Dam, The Internet, the Human Genome Project- which, coincidentally was completed in conjunction and competition with a private organization). He fails to recognize what monumental human achievements have been created without government intervention (computers, the world wide web, the skyscraper, the cotton gin, the iPod, overnight mail delivery, the bicycle, the automobile, the airplane, refrigeration, the telephone, eBay, plasma television, and the list is endless).
Toward the end of the book, Obama explains reforms that will benefit our position in the global market, including investing in education and he goes on to explain how there could be a compromise between Democrats and Republicans on education. The author again misses the big picture here: education may help us prosper in the global economy, but only if we have students who want to learn. We will only have people who want to learn if we change our emphasis on consumption to production as a nation. If Obama thinks we should position ourselves better in the global economy, perhaps he would agree to change the tax structure from one that penalizes production (income tax), to one that penalizes consumption (sales tax). If the author wants America to compete in the world, perhaps he should reconsider policies that make it difficult to compete with Mexico, China, and India (minimum wage, strict business regulation, high business taxes). Unfortunately, the Illinois Senator promotes tired New Deal policies that make it difficult for business to provide work in America and easy for them to outsource.
Obama blames Bush’s tax cuts for the huge debt we have, but doesn’t seem to think that the dot com bust, the 9/11 shock, two wars in Asia, or the $500 billion senior prescription drug benefit had much of an impact on the debt. He does later focus on defense as a major price in the Federal budget, but fails to acknowledge that Medicare and Medicaid together cost more than the entire Homeland Security budget ($481B to $473B). He also praises former president Roosevelt for his programs like Social Security, but ignores the cost of the program ($519B) when he speaks about Federal debt.
He goes on to describe race relations and the need for Americans to continue the fight for equality. In this case, I would have like to seen Obama treat all races consistently, instead of labeling them by continent of origin, skin shade, or language (he describes races with titles like African American, white, and Hispanic). Further confusing the terminology, he considers himself an African American, though he has half European genes.
With all of the ideas, perspectives, and facts that Obama fails to uncover (granted there are an infinite amount of these), the author of “Hope” makes a dramatic step toward unification in thought. When he speaks about religion, he proclaims that if someone is to communicate their beliefs, they must use a standard that everyone can agree on. This point is breezed past fairly quickly, but is a monumental concept, not only for religion, but for all avenues of discourse. All disagreement, including that between political factions, is based on simple misunderstandings. We can remedy these misunderstandings by finding common ground between two parties and go from there. Obama writes that the best we can do is to, “act in accordance with those things that are possible for all of us to know.” That is a beautiful point.
Writing this book for Obama, with the controversial policies he promotes, is contrary to his above quote, unfortunately. Despite this, it is clear that he is making an attempt to bridge the gap between political factions and it is clear that his motives are good. It is my hope, audacious or not, that Obama is open enough to acknowledge options for a better America that are different than his, and may, in fact, be more appropriate.
Click for Obama’s book “The Audacity of Hope“.