Friday, November 21, 2008

Review: The Audacity of Hope

I will admit that I voted for Hilary Clinton during the Democratic primary in California, largely on the basis of her policy on Healthcare Mandates, which makes much more economic sense than not having mandates. Interestingly enough, it looks like the plans circulating in the senate recently do push for mandates (and I think it will have to be part of the compromise).

In any case, Obama has won the election (there was no question in my mind who I was going to vote for in the general election), and the result is that I found myself reading The Audacity of Hope (dead tree edition) to see the kind of person who could get elected while just a junior senator. (There's a theory that if we know too much about someone we have a tendency not to vote for them, so it might be that being a junior senator is a good thing --- you have name recognition, but no history)

On to the book proper. First of all, it's not ghost written. That's incredibly rare. Even Robert Rubin's In an Uncertain World had to involve a ghost writer. Now, Krugman characterized Obama as the most establishment-type candidate of the Democrats running for president, so I didn't know what to expect. I definitely had heard fragments of his speech on the radio (the media never got tired of There's no Red America, there's no Blue America, there's only the United States of America), and knew that many considered him eloquent, but I was unprepared for how well he writes. For instance, Brad Delong often complains about the press corps, but here's Obama putting forward the same complaint:
This element of convenience also helps explain why, even among the most scrupulous reporters, objectivity often means publishing the talking points of different sides of a debate without any perspective on which side might actually be right. A typical story might begin: “The White House today reported that despite the latest round of tax cuts, the deficit is projected to be cut in half by the year
2010.” This lead will then be followed by a quote from a liberal analyst attacking the White House numbers and a conservative analyst defending the White House numbers. Is one analyst more credible than the other? Is there an independent analyst somewhere who might walk us through the numbers? Who knows? Rarely does the reporter have time for such details; the story is not really about the merits of the tax cut or the dangers of the deficit but rather about the dispute between the parties. After a few paragraphs, the reader can conclude that Republicans and Democrats are just bickering again and turn to the sports page, where the story line is less predictable and the box score tells you who won.
(Kindle Loc 1865)

Obama has assuaged my fears, especially when he does say the things that those of us who've been unabashed liberals all along, though with much more diplomatic words that I could summon --- the Republicans have failed to govern, and cannot be trusted with governance. The conservative values seem to see Gay Marriage as much more important than helping the poor, and that is certainly not Christian. As much as any of us, he is also concerned with the increasing inequality in the country:
But over the long term, doing nothing probably means an America very different from the one most of us grew up in. It will mean a nation even more stratified economically and socially than it currently is: one in which an increasingly prosperous knowledge class, living in exclusive enclaves, will be able to purchase whatever they want on the marketplace—private schools, private health care, private security, and private jets—while a growing number of their fellow citizens are consigned to low-paying service jobs, vulnerable to dislocation, pressed to work longer hours, dependent on an underfunded, overburdened, and underperforming public sector for their health care, their retirement, and their children’s educations. It will mean an America in which we continue to mortgage our assets to foreign lenders and expose ourselves to the whims of oil producers; an America in which we underinvest in the basic scientific research and workforce training that will determine our long-term economic prospects and neglect potential environmental crises. It will mean an America that’s more politically polarized and more politically unstable, as economic frustration boils over and leads people to turn on each other. Worst of all, it will mean fewer opportunities for younger Americans, a decline in the upward mobility that’s been at the heart of this country’s promise since its founding. (Kindle Loc: 2196)

The rest of the book covers more personal details, such as how he met his wife, what her family's struggle means to him, and why he chose to become a politician. It's all worth reading, and you get quite a lot of his thoughts for $4.39. Certainly, after all this, I'm proud of the party I belong to: it is quite clear that Obama could only have come out of the Democratic party. Highly recommended.
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