Nina's Reading Blog

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Archive for August 7th, 2011

The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream

Posted by nliakos on August 7, 2011

by Barack Obama (copyright 2006; Vintage Books 2008)

Barack Obama wrote this book when he was serving in the United States Senate; I read it in his fourth year as President, just after the devastating battle over the debt ceiling (July-August 2011), when the so-called “Tea Party” Republicans brought the country to the brink of ruin trying to ensure his defeat at the polls in November 2012.

Like Dreams from My Father, this book is notable for its honesty. Obama writes of his relationship with his wife and children and his first election loss very directly and forthrightly.  He also writes clearly and simply of politics, history, religion, race, and international relations.  “Opportunity”, perhaps my favorite chapter, deals with how our capitalist system developed its unique relationship between government and industry. Obama writes, “Our free-market system…emerged through a painful process of trial and error, a series of difficult choices between efficiency and fairness, stability and change.” Beginning with Alexander Hamilton’s ideas about a national economy, Jefferson’s fear that this would “undermine his vision of an egalitarian democracy tied to the land”, Lincoln’s “groundwork for a fully integrated national economy” (the transcontinental railroad, research funded by the National Academy of Sciences, the Homestead Act, the land grant colleges…), Wilson’s Federal Reserve Bank and Roosevelt’s New Deal, Obama clarifies the path that Americans have taken to arrive at the impasse at which we now find ourselves, split down the middle and paralyzed, unable to act on the simplest legislation (although at the time he wrote it, Obama could hardly have predicted the absurdity of the impasse Congress created during this summer of 2011).

Reading his words, I felt a renewal of faith in Obama’s priorities, even as I feel disappointed by his apparent inability to make the Republicans toe the line (in the battle over the debt ceiling, it was he who blinked: and the bill that finally passed contained no closing of tax loopholes, new taxes, or tax reform).  It does take a certain amount of audacity “to believe despite all the evidence to the contrary that we could restore a sense of community to a nation torn by conflict.”  I continue to hope, but without much conviction.

For English learners, this book provides a clear picture of American history, values, culture and politics. It is written in clear language and organized neatly into its various chapters: an excellent example of good, clear writing.


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