Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Spotlight Article on Barack Obama



By David Mendell
Published by Amistad Books, An Imprint of Harper Collins
Publication Date: August 14, 2007
Price: $25.95
416 Pages
ISBN-13: 9780060858209
Four Star Rating ****

By Barack Obama
Published by Three Rivers Press, Member of the Crown Publishing Group, A Division of Random House
Publication Date: August 2004
Price: $14.95
457 Pages
ISBN-13: 9781400082773
Four Star Rating ****

By Barack Obama
Published by Three Rivers Press, Member of the Crown Publishing Group, A Division of Random House
Publication Date: November 2007
Price: $14.95
375 Pages
Four Star Rating ****

“’People don’t come to Obama for what he’s done’, said Bruce Reed, president of the Democratic Leadership Council, a group devoted to centrist policies. ‘They come because of what they hope he can be.’ Whether by design or destiny, ambition or purpose, Barack Obama had climbed aboard the ride of his life. And he seemed determined to take America with him.”---Obama: From Promise to Power, p.13

“Barry? Barry, is this you?
“Yes…Who’s this?
“Yes, Barry…this is your Aunt Jane. In Nairobi. Can you hear me?
“I’m sorry-who did you say you were?”
“Aunt Jane. Listen, Barry, your father is dead. He is killed in a car accident. Hello? Can you hear me? I say your father is dead. Barry, please call your uncle in Boston and tell him. I can’t talk now, okay. Barry, I will try to call you again…” Dreams From My Father, p 5.

“A government that truly represents these Americans-that truly serves these Americans-will require a different kind of politics. That politics will need to reflect our lives as they are actually lived. It won’t be prepackaged, ready to pull off the shelf. It will have to be constructed from the best of our traditions and will have to account for the darker aspects of our past. We will need to understand just how we got to this place, the land of warring factions and tribal hatreds. And we will need to remind ourselves, despite all our differences, just how much we share: common hopes, common dreams, a bond that will not break…(Pp 25).

The audacity of hope.

That was the best of the American spirit, I thought-having the audacity to believe that despite all of the evidence to the contrary that we could restore a sense of community to a nation torn by the conflict; the gall to believe that despite personal setbacks, the loss of a job or illness in the family or a childhood mired in poverty, we had some control-and therefore responsibility- over our own fate.

It was that audacity, I thought that joined us as one people. It was that pervasive spirit of hope that tied my own family’s story to the larger American story, and my own story to those of the voters I sought to represent.” ---The Audacity of Hope, (p. 356-357).

The Spotlight Article for this month focuses on three books, Dreams of My Father, The Audacity of Hope, and Obama: From Promise to Power. In this Presidential Election year, the meteoric rise of Barack Obama from a high school student in Hawaii to a candidate for President of the United States seems more than appropriate.

Dreams from My Father is memoir and a memoir by Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. First published in 1995 after Obama was elected the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, but before his political career began, it traces and explains his feelings about the story of his life up to the time he was elected to the Senate.. The book was re-released in 2004 following Senator Obama's widely admired keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention (DNC); the 2004 edition includes a new introduction by Senator Obama as well as his DNC keynote address.

The autobiographical narrative tells the story of the future Senator's life up to his entry in Harvard Law School. He was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, to Harvard University-educated economist Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., of Kenya, and Ann Dunham of Wichita, Kansas. At the time of Obama's birth, both his parents were students at the East-West Center of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Obama's parents separated when he was two years old and divorced when he was four. Obama formed an image of his absent father from stories told by his mother and her parents.

Ann Dunham Obama then married Lolo Soetoro, an East-West Center student from Indonesia. The family moved to Jakarta. When Obama was ten, he returned to Hawaii under the care of his grandparents (and later his mother) for the better educational opportunities available in Hawaii. He was enrolled in the fifth grade at Punahou School, a private college-preparatory school where one of his teachers was the sister of Neal Boortz, the radio talk-show host. Obama was one of three Black students among the majority Asian-American population at that school. In an American school, Obama first became conscious of racism and what it means to be an African-American. At this point, his father came to visit him and his family; it was the last time that Obama would see him before his father's death in a car accident in 1982.

Upon finishing high school, Obama enrolled at Occidental College, where he describes living a "party" lifestyle of drug and alcohol use. He transferred to Columbia College at Columbia University, where he majored in political science. Upon graduation, he worked for a year in business. He then moved to Chicago, where he took up community organizing in the Altgeld Gardens housing project on the city's South Side. Obama recounts the difficulty of the experience, as his program faced resistance from entrenched community leaders and apathy on the part of the established bureaucracy. It was during his time spent here that Obama joined Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ.

Before attending Harvard Law School, Obama decided to visit relatives in Kenya. He uses part of his experience there as the setting for the book's final, emotional scene. As well as relating the story of Obama's life, the book includes a good deal of reflection on race and race relations in the United States. An outsider economically and culturally and trapped between cultures (the offspring of a white mother and African father), Obama channeled his anger and alienation into determination that changed neighborhoods, and may well change the nation. It is through a review of his journey and self-study that we first learn the formulation that with hope comes all achievement. Mr. Obama’s search for his father, and more importantly to find a place for himself is memorable. The book is not about politics, it's about experience, and more than anything else, it's about hope

The Audacity of Hope takes up where Dreams leaves off. Audacity is the second book written by U.S. Senator Barack Obama. This book starts after Mr. Obama has been elected to the Senate. The book is Mr. Obama's personal political philosophies and the foundation for understanding his 2008 nomination run. While a Senate candidate, Obama delivered the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic Convention, entitled The Audacity of Hope that propelled him to national prominence. In the less than 20 minutes it took to deliver the speech, Obama was catapulted to sudden fame, with many analysts predicting that he might be well-positioned to enter a future presidential race. In 2006, Obama released The Audacity of Hope, a book-length account that expanded upon many of the same themes he originally addressed in the convention speech.

In his speech addressing the Democratic National Convention in 2004, Obama said:

“In the end, that's what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope? John Kerry calls on us to hope. John Edwards calls on us to hope. I'm not talking about blind optimism here -- the almost willful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don't talk about it, or the health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. No, I'm talking about something more substantial. It's the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a millworker's son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too. Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope! ”

A "political biography that concentrates on the senator's core values," according to the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times noted that "Mr. Obama’s new book, “The Audacity of Hope” ... is much more of a political document. Portions of the volume read like outtakes from a stump speech, and the bulk of it is devoted to laying out Mr. Obama’s policy positions on a host of issues, from education to health care to the war in Iraq". An Italian translation was published in April 2007. This was followed by a German translation in May 2007 and a Spanish translation in June 2007. It has remained on the New York Times Best Seller list for over 30 weeks since publication. The audio book version won the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album.

The book essentially layouts out in some detail the political position that Mr. Obama takes on various issues, like education, employment, health care and Iraq. Much like his speeches in the campaign the book discusses building a consensus to accomplish great things, and how this was part of America’s past and should again be part of America’s future. It is very consistent with the things he has discussed on the campaign trial this year.

From Promise to Power is a book by David Mendell of the Chicago Tribune. I selected this book to check the viewpoint of a political insider who is an independent third party, who knows Mr. Obama, but is not affiliated with him. As an award-winning political journalist for the Chicago Tribune, Mendell was in a unique position to offer independent opinions concerning both Barack the man and Senator Obama the Politician.

Mendell’s book does not disappoint. He tells us that the rise and explosion of Obama onto the national political landscape was no accident, but a well organized plan by the man who was a local law school lecturer, community organizer, and senator. This book is a very revealing, intimate biography about Mr. Obama, his family, his wife, friends, aids and rivals. With his insider’s prospective, and his shrewd eye as a critical journalist, he paints a picture of Mr. Obama that is the most comprehensive of any book about the candidate that I have ever read. The portrait that he paints is a candidate that has held true to his ideals of clean politics and good government, and a man who truly does reach across the isle and enlists his fellow citizens to become an active part of their government. Coalition building and supporting of the faith necessary to turn ideas into action and then reality are a natural part of Obama’s political personality. This “no stone unturned” volume shows us a hard-working, political, hopeful man. We get a Birdseye view of Mr. Obama’s evolution from law review editor to adulated candidate in this book. The one thing that does come across in this book is that Obama can handle adversity and remain true to his beliefs and his constituency. Not that Obama is not a fighter when he needs to be; he is. No politician that comes out of Chicago is not a fighter. This is a man who has learned from his mistakes, and lives his message of hope.

I can hardily recommend all 3 books.

No comments: