[lit-ideas] Audacity

  • From: JimKandJulieB@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 25 Dec 2006 23:59:23 EST

 
 
A review of Audacity of Hop by Gary Hart of  Hart vs. Mondale fame.  I've 
ordered the book on-line -- I've been wanting  to read it for quite some time.  
Has anyone here read it?  Reactions  to it?
 
Julie Krueger
 
December 24, 2006

American Idol 
By GARY HART
 
 
 
THE AUDACITY OF HOPE 
Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. 
By Barack Obama.  
375 pp. Crown Publishers. $25. 


 
In a more perfect world, a graduate program complete with a doctoral thesis  
might be required of all those seeking the presidency. In certain ways, “The  
Audacity of Hope” qualifies as Senator Barack Obama’s thesis submission. 
While  exhibiting his leadership attributes, life experiences and personal 
qualities,  largely in anecdotal form, this book also displays reasonably wide 
and  
thoughtful, if occasionally predictable, responses to domestic controversies 
and  underscores that in his brief time as the junior senator from Illinois, he 
has  been exposed to conflicts in the Middle East, the former Soviet Union and 
 elsewhere. 
The self-portrait is appealing. It presents a man of relative youth yet  
maturity, a wise observer of the human condition, a figure who possesses  
perseverance and writing skills that have flashes of grandeur. Obama also  
demonstrates a wry sense of humor. His life has given him many reasons to be  
wry. 
The senator is a global man for the age of globalization, and his story is  
now familiar. A Kansas mother, a Kenyan father, an Indonesian stepfather, and  
years growing up in the disparate places of Hawaii and Indonesia marked him 
for  distinction the moment he walked through the doors of the _United States 
Senate_ 
(http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/s/senate/index.html?inline=nyt-org)
 , and provided him with a unique  prism through 
which to view the glory and the folly of American politics. 
Obama disarmingly admits to ambition, “chronic restlessness” and envy of 
more  successful younger politicians. Before rolling the dice on a risky Senate 
race,  he had begun to harbor doubts about his choice of career, and suggests 
here that  he went through at least some of “the stages prescribed by the 
experts”:  “denial, anger ... despair.” And, in a particularly Tolstoyan 
moment, 
he  confesses to “acceptance” of “my mortality.” He listened to 
countless 
people’s  stories and came to a Roosevelt-like epiphany: “Government should 
help.
” He  laments the loss of a shared civic language and the widening gap 
between the  myth of American life and its reality, and he devotes this book to 
the 
discovery  of “a new kind of politics” and “civic life,” to “the 
notion of a 
common good.”  He specifically refuses to offer “a manifesto for action, 
complete with ...  10-point plans.” 
Confessing guilt at being “insufficiently balanced” in his political views 
— 
 “I am a Democrat, after all” — Obama insists that “government has an 
important  role in opening up opportunity to all”; he also believes in “the 
free 
market,  competition and entrepreneurship.” He suspects that some of his 
views —
 his  open-mindedness on social issues, for example, combined with economic  
traditionalism — will cause him trouble. His relative newness on the 
political 
 scene, he admits, will also cause him to be seen as a “blank screen” on 
which a  variety of people will project their own views, but he then quickly 
acknowledges  that he must “avoid the pitfalls of fame.”  
Given his recent media exposure, Obama would be well advised to follow his  
own counsel in this regard. “Precisely because I’ve watched the press cast 
me 
in  a light that can be hard to live up to,” he writes, “I am mindful of 
how 
rapidly  that process can work in reverse.” The media age has been known, as 
he wisely  recognizes, to devour what it doth create.  
Despite being new to the scene (although he did serve three terms in the  
Illinois State Senate), Obama casts himself in the role of a political veteran, 
 
using phrases like “the longer I served in Washington” (less than two 
years) 
and  “the more time I spent on the Senate floor.” But his particular 
upbringing gives  him special insights into the transition of American politics 
in the 
1960s and  ’70s from debates over economic principles to a focus on culture 
and morality,  and into the divisiveness, polarization and incivility that 
accompanied this  transition. He describes the Democratic Party as one that 
merely 
reacts to  events, and he documents the strangulation of conviction by “
triangulation.” His  substitute? Trans-partisan consensus around a “project 
of 
national renewal.” 
The success of a book like this may be judged by determining for whom it is  
written. Obama perceives his audience as intelligent, involved (though only  
slightly wonkish) citizens interested in knowing more about who he is and what  
and how he thinks. Much of his book is dedicated to the who and the how, 
though  the chapters “Our Constitution,” “Opportunity” and “The World 
Beyond Our 
 Borders” are meant to demonstrate the what — intellectual depth, policy  
innovation and international exposure. As sprightly as his political  
observations are (e.g., the longer you are in the Senate, the more you come to  
resemble 
your wealthy contributors), the substantive discussions often seem  didactic, 
revealing, especially in his discussion of the Constitution, the law  
professor he once was. 
Obama thinks _Democrats_ 
(http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/d/democratic_party/index.html?inline=nyt-org)
  have been “wrong 
to run away from a debate  about values,” though exactly who has been guilty 
of running away is not made  clear, and his correct definition of values — “
the standards and principles that  the majority of Americans deem important in 
their lives, and in the life of the  country” — is hardly what the 
evangelical polemicists who have hijacked the  traditional _Republican Party_ 
(http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/r/republican_party/ind
ex.html?inline=nyt-org)  have in mind. He is particularly  evocative on the 
issue of ideological inconsistency, blaming liberals for  demanding civil 
liberties but not deregulation and conservatives for wanting  deregulation of 
markets but encouraging wiretapping. “Values,” Obama writes,  “are 
faithfully 
applied to the facts before us, while ideology overrides  whatever facts call 
theory into question.” 
Prescriptively, he advocates public investments in education, science and  
technology, and energy as the key to expanded opportunity. This has been  
standard fare for so-called neoliberals since the late 1970s. But he also 
writes  
that “what’s missing is not money, but a national sense of urgency.” He 
promotes  cutting-edge ideas — for instance, abolishing all tax breaks for 
the oil  
industry and requiring contributions from the big companies that would help  
finance alternative energy research — and shows great interest in 
governmental  
experimentation instead of traditional bureaucratic programs. His inherent  
internationalism causes him to ponder why, five years after 9/11 and 15 years  
after the end of the cold war, the United States “still lacks a coherent  
national security policy,” rightly finding the Bush doctrine of pre-emption 
and  
defeat of evil in the world wanting. 
Truly great leaders possess a strategic sense, an inherent understanding of  
how the framework of their thinking and the tides of the times fit together an
d  how their nation’s powers should be applied to achieve its large purposes. 
“
The  Audacity of Hope” is missing that strategic sense. Perhaps the senator 
should  address this in his next book. By doing so, he would most certainly 
propel  himself into the country’s small pantheon of leaders in a way that 
personal  narrative and sudden fame cannot. 
In a very short time, Barack Obama has made himself into a figure of national 
 interest, curiosity and some undefined hope. This book fully encourages 
those  sentiments. His greatest test will be that of sensing the times, of 
matching his  timing with the tides of the nation. 
He is at his best when he writes things like this: “I find comfort in the  
fact that the longer I’m in politics the less nourishing popularity becomes,  
that a striving for power and rank and fame seems to betray a poverty of  
ambition, and that I am answerable mainly to the steady gaze of my own  
conscience.” 
Gary Hart, a former United States senator, is the author, most  recently, of “
The Courage of Our Convictions: A Manifesto for  Democrats.”


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