I’ve been dreading this book. Loaned to me by a friend, it sat on my bookshelf for months. Each glimpse of it brought feelings of inadequacy. Inadequacy that results when something potentially educational or informative sits on my bookshelf while I continue reading works of fiction or books about sports. Fiction=escape. Sports=leisure. Politics=work.
Then I started it, like in April of 2007. I made it half way through then I got really board. It sat, half-finished, for more than a year. I picked it up again after the election. In the end, I’m looking for direction. I waffle on all of the major issues facing this country and I disagree with the extremists on both sides. This book is basically Obama’s take on the breadth of issues that I want to be conversant in, so it’s a start. A start on the practice of understanding where I stand on the issues facing this country.
Obama organizes this beast into nine chapters. I’ve listed them below with Obama’s titles in bold print and my take on the what I think the key points of each chapter are or what the subheadings for each chapter should be (he doesn’t have subchapters, except for the occasional line-skip). I didn’t have time to add my take on everything.
(1) Republicans and Democrats
Yes, we are different. But not that much different.
No matter how wrongheaded I might consider their policies to be – and no matter how much I might insist that they be held accountable for the results of such policies – I still find it possible, in talking to these men and women, to understand their motives, and to recognize in them the values that I share.
Oh, you had me at hello. But wait:
But our democracy might work a bit better if we recognized that all of us possess values that are worthy of respect: if liberals at least acknowledged that the recreational hunter feels the same way about his gun as they feel about their library books, and if conservatives recognized that most women feel as protective of their right to reproductive freedom as evangelicals do of their right to worship.
This is important stuff folks (look past that fact that you and I know hunters who read books). If he can “reach across the aisle” and if he can convince us to listen and work together, we are going to resolve things more efficiently.
Obama says he is not an ideologue.
Values are faithfully applied to the facts before us, while ideology overrides whatever facts call theory into question.
He brings this point up when talking about a Republican’s efforts to squash a school breakfast bill for five-year-olds because it would “crush their spirit of self-reliance.” He goes a little further and says:
I believe a stronger sense of empathy would tilt the balance of our current politics in favor of those people who are struggling in this society.
I’m in agreement. Who wouldn’t be? But I listen when people tell me stories about government handouts that get wasted. I listen, because it makes me mad. Heck, increase my taxes if it goes to programs that help people who want to be helped. When Obama was a community organizer, he was on the ground and could insure that tax dollars for his area went to the right place. I know some people who run a local neighborhood organization and if I could channel my tax dollars to them to use for their projects, I’d pay even more taxes. Why? Because they efficiently help people and they care. How can Obama insure the same level efficiency from Pennsylvania Avenue? I don’t have the answers.
(3) Our Constitution
Okay, this gets theoretical. I’m listening to John Adams right now and struggling with things that Obama talks about. I’m a quant guy and getting my head around this constructionist versus contextual reading of the Constitution is difficult. In the end, Obama chooses the interpretive route:
Ultimately, though, I have to side with Justice Breyer’s view of the Constitution – that it is not a static but rather a living document, and must be read in the context of an ever-changing world.
This is a can of worms and I can only pretend to support why I’m on Obama’s side. Maybe it’s because the Constitution was written when slavery was commonplace. John Adams fought hard against slavery but couldn’t get any verbiage to decry it written into the Declaration of Independence (and I think he was in France when the Constitution was written). Things change man, they change.
Hopefully Obama is as brutally honest with us now that he is running the show as when he was writing this book. He explains about how he transitioned from being a guy hesitant to call donors for contributions to someone who actually enjoyed it. I say this is honest because it doesn’t seem like he needs to admit this. But he does:
Still, I know that as a consequence of my fund-raising, I became more like the wealthy donors I met, in the very particular sense that I spent more and more of my time above the fray, outside the world of immediate hunger, disappointment, fear, irrationality, and frequent hardship of the other 99 percent of the population – that is, the people that I’d entered public life to serve.
And a few paragraphs later:
The problems of ordinary people, the voices of the Rust Belt town or the dwindling heartland, become a distant echo rather than a palpable reality, abstractions to be managed rather than battles to be fought.
I just hope he stays in touch with these feelings.
So now, he spends the rest of the book getting down and dirty with the issues. He takes them one-by-one, just clipping down through issues and giving his take.
- Globalization and Free Trade
- Social Security
- Minimum Wage
- Health Care
- Same-sex Marriage
- Separation of Church and State
- Prayer in Schools
- Enforcement of Nondiscrimination Laws
- Deteriorating Condition of the Inner City Poor
- Immigration and Undocumented Workers
(8) The World Beyond Our Borders
- Defense Spending
- Defense Strategy
- Military Action and the U.N. Security Council
- Imposition of Democracy
- Providing Development Assistance
- Day Care
- Flexible Work Schedules
He talks about a lot of stuff and lays out his take on all of these things over the course of the pages. I just don’t have time to deal with all of this right now. I want to go down the list and figure out where he stands, mostly because I want to hold him to it. Heck, I end up agreeing with him for the most part. But I have stuff to do. I’m going to have to get this book when I get a Kindle so I can make notes and refer back to it. Yeah, that’s it.