One of my favorite things to study is the Presidents including recent and current Presidents. Since I know little (apart from political worldview, etc.) about current President Barack Obama, I sat down to read his second book The Audacity Of Hope - Thoughts On Reclaiming The American Dream. Whether one loves or finds themselves disappointed with the President, I find it important to understand the underlying political philosophy and biography of our President - Republican or Democrat.
At the outset, one must understand a few things about books like this. First, the book was written before Obama was President or even a major Presidential candidate. Don't forget, when Obama announced he was running for President, he was a long shot candidate as everyone had given the nomination to then Senator Hillary Clinton. But this book was written while the President was a freshman Senator serving in his first term representing the state of Illinois. There is little hint of wanting to be President or run for the presidency. Instead, Obama writes from the persepective of a Senator, not a President or an executive.
Secondly, virtually all political books have a short shelf life. By this I mean that since politics is always changing and the news changes everyday, most political books are outdated almost immediately. Obama's book is just like that. For example, Obama has the "audacity" to suggest that Iraq will not end in victory and would not turn around. Clearly he does not have the advantage of history. At the time of writing this book, Iraq looked like a mess. Amazing how quickly things change!
With that said, my take on the book is that at times I was wondering if this book was written by the person who now occupies the White House. Either Obama has changed tremendously since the penning of this book or he exaggerated and misled his readers and the American people on his beliefs. In this book, Obama sounds like a rationale centrist who believes in the free market and freedom. At times he seems to be against large, overgrown government, but when I turn on the news, I see a different person. When one reads Obama's words in this book they are shocked to find that he has taken over health care, ran up the federal deficit (of which he criticizes President George W. Bush for doing), bought out car companies, took over student loans, ignored and appears incompetent to deal with a major environmental disaster, and nominate a Supreme Court Justice who many consider to be racist prefering her own Latino race over that of others.
I was shocked by this realization. Is the person we see on TV everyday the same person that wrote this book? Is this just the idealism of a Senator while we are witnessing the realities of a Presidency? Grant it, things have changed, but it is hard to see the mass changes due to changes in economics and national security.
But I don't want to paint the President as a right winger, he is anything but that. He is clear that he prefers to interpret the Constitution as a living document. He is clearly progressive in this book and believes that government plays an important role. He criticizes President Bush frequently and characterizes conservatives as impractical and failures.
The best part and most satisfying part of the book came near the end in his discussion of family and the importance of fatherhood especially. Obama appears humble and dedicated to his family. He clearly loves his wife and two girls and for that I applaud him. Unfortunately, of all of the candidates on both parties for President in 2008, he was among the very few who had no sex scandal attached to him or his spouse or was divorced. I loved Obama's language and and exhortations here. My problem was his progressive belief that government was the solution (but at least in this chapter he said little in this regards). Since being elected, Obama has continued to sound the alarm about the importance of families and fatherhood, but I just fear that his policies has only led to the complete dismantle of the institution.
Overall, I am not surprised to find myself in complete disagreement with much that the President says here. But I am concerned over the picture we were given of the President and how he has led the country since his inauguration. Were we mislead? I am afraid so. This is why previous executive experience is so important. One's history in leadership likely determines where they will lead us next. We did not get that with Obama.