on 26 February 2011
When writing a review of a President's book, written two years into his Senate term, while he is two years into his Presidency, is not necessarily the ideal circumstance for an objective review. Those on the left may have the predisposition to denounce this book as an article of unfulfilled promises; others would denounce this as nothing more than a propaganda piece and a launch pad for a Presidential campaign. It is the intention of the following review to take neither of the aforementioned positions, and rather to review the book on its own merits and the circumstances under which it was written, turning a blind eye to the author's Presidency.
While The Audacity of Hope is clearly a political book, but what is not so clear is what kind of political book it is. Is it a memoir, a political manifesto, a historical analysis, or a current affairs analysis? In many ways it is all of the aforementioned, and ably weaves its components into a highly readable narrative.
The political memoir aspect of the book is essentially its beginning and its end. Throughout the book Obama provides many insights from his own life that has shaped his view of the world, but essentially the sections of the book that are most purely a retelling of the author's political experience occur both at the beginning and the end. The author was familiar with the events taking place, perhaps the most familiar being the controversy in 2005 over the stalling of President Bush's judicial nominees, and the suggested remedy "the nuclear option" (the use of a political officer, most likely the Vice President, to remove the filibuster on judicial nominees) and the compromise crafted by 7 Senators of each party to preserve the filibuster and not use it except in "extraordinary circumstances" (the ambiguity of such a term was perceived by both the author and this reader).
Within the early chapters are contained insights into Barack Obama's own legal philosophy, essentially of the "Living Constitution" school of thought, as opposed to the Strict Constructionist approach. While this reader has been more beholden, and in many ways still am, to the Strict Constructionist model of judicial thinking, this was undoubtedly the best written, and most compelling argument for the Living Constitution this reader has yet read, and it is a clear strength of the book.
The following chapters, those on Society, Economy, Race, Religion, and World Affairs give a great insight into the political thinking of its author. The extent to which they have been exercised within the offices the author has held this reader cannot adequately analyze, and nor is it the purpose of this review to do so, however they do give insight into the author's then political leanings.
The author makes a very good case for the benefits of Globalization and the fruitlessness of protectionism and other attempts to isolate oneself from the World Economy. He recalls this with his disaffected constituents in mind, explaining that he always had thought of those who were at the losing end of Globalization, those losing work, whenever he thought out his policy positions.
The chapter on Race clearly does not read like it was written by Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton. While recalling events such as the funeral of Rosa Parks, the author makes a case over how the current status of minorities in the USA requires a break from precedence as much for the minorities themselves as it does from society and government.
The chapter on Religion is one of the books strengths. Herein the author reveals himself to be very much a centrist on this matter. In no way does he adopt any far left positions against prayer in schools, public displays of religious symbols, but at the same time makes a very good case of the importance of rendering unto Caesar. With insight from his own faith, this chapter contains no condescension or self-righteousness, or at least none that this reader can discern, and deserves to be quoted and referenced at any debate regarding the role of religion in society.
The chapter that most strongly struck a chord with this reader was the chapter on World Affairs. Beginning with the author's experience in Indonesia, and an overview of the world's fourth most populous country, Obama draws on the role of Globalization, the threats facing the United States and the world at large, and America's role in the world. While he is clearly a multi-lateralist, he makes a very pragmatic argument. He understands the failings and outdated structure of the United Nations, but at the same time speaks of the merits of drawing consensus and the importance of the international community. Those who would term him an appeaser or "soft" on particular issues of national security or proliferation, will find it hard to do so at least from this chapter. The author clearly shows his understanding of history, and writes a very pragmatic treatise on foreign policy.
The final chapter on family is very autobiographical, drawing on his own experiences in balancing family commitment with his various roles, from being a community organizer, a lawyer, a State Senator, and a United States Senator, but at the same time reveals a pragmatic approach to the breakdown of family relations within the United States, and how society and government can offset certain trends.
The Epilogue is in many ways a recount of his early days as a United States Senator, in some ways tying in with the opening of the book.
In all a very readable and thoughtful book, which should be approached by all, regardless of political persuasions. This book dispels many of the caricatures, which his opponents have sought to personify him as, and proves that he is indeed a patriot in his own way. A thoughtful and readable book that should be approached without preconceptions and read as the thoughtful narrative it is.