‘Great Expectations’ Meets ‘The Declaration of Independence.’ Obama’s First Book

US Politics
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Today my mother in law sent me a desperate email, Obama is about to be crucified. He is losing ground, she says, this happened to Stevenson, it will always happen to someone who is smart and sensitive. Last night I saw a friend who began to tremble with upset when speaking of the attacks on Obama. Today my wife said, I really think he’s being chopped down by those bastards.

Oh ye of little faith. I’m not the least bit worried.

The historic moment that has called Obama to center stage in our
politics is too large, and his powers are too awesome, for the story to
cease to unfold. We are part of a big progressive movement in American
public life, one we’ve never seen before. It’s not going away. Even if
he loses– which he won’t.

Now I must be plain and say that I’m in the middle of a shattering experience as a reader: Obama’s first book, Dreams From My Father.
What have you heard about this book? It is simply magnificent,
magnificent. I’m going to be blogging about this book for a while,
maybe every word in it; it is that rich and deep and artistic and
religious, a summons to Americans to believe in the next America.

I will boil it down to its essential narrative. Obama originates
from a radical milieu. His smalltown Kansas grandparents were
challenged, nearly 50 years ago, to accept the fact that their wildly
independent daughter was in love with a black African. The grandparents
rose to the occasion. They celebrated and nurtured their black
grandson, who lived with them for years. Gramps–Stanley Dunham–was
something like Joe of Great Expectations, a free spirit, while his
daughter, Obama’s mother, was a truly engaged leftist, off in Indonesia
doing anthropology with her second husband of color. The boy’s father,
a brilliant African who gave young Barack his imperious character and
intelligence–"I will give you values," mom says– was long gone,
completely absent.

And of course the abandoned son embarked on a painful process of trying to understand who he was, and came to dream that if he could only make America whole he would make himself whole

One thing I am trying to convey is the utter crazy unlikelihood of
this being the  family of a future president: a broken,
Kansas-Hawaiian-Indonesian-Kenyan family with two absent parents, both
politically radical. No one would ever have believed that their little
black boy would be in the White House.

The glory of this book, and of our country, is that Obama is so
brilliant and reflective that he was able to build a whole identity for
himself as a black engaged American, out of this radical, angry, and
fragmented milieu. Able to heal himself from the anger
and alienation of his youth. It is not that he has renounced the
leftwing ideas of his youth, no, he has simply developed them into a
mature political understanding of the Other, which is only necessary to
all of us right now.The glory for America is that Obama’s crazy
background, once so outcast and marginalized and exotic, is now utterly
essential to our refinding our spot in the world, to healing America.

My confidence about Obama’s fortunes springs from the fact that I am
sure that any fairminded person who sees and hears Obama understands
not just the objective facts–he is smarter and better-tempered than
his rivals, and utterly fit to lead–they see the underlying narrative
as the country’s narrative. As voters we now get to complete that
narrative. Yes there are many narrowminded people and racists who want
to see him crushed, and many rightwingers who fear him and want to
demolish him because he spells their irrelevance for the next 30 years.
But those people are a minority, they are dying off by the second.
Obama’s story and dreams have merged with America’s. The crazy
challenge his grandparents rose to meet 50 years ago is the challenge
America now faces in the world; and in the end a majority of people
will say, This is who we want to get the country to its next great
stage.   

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