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

US Politics
on 17 Comments

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

17 Responses

  1. Chuck
    April 18, 2008, 2:51 pm

    Spare me the "smarter and better tempered" candidates. After the last 50 years of Viet Nam, Watergate, Clinton's Impeachment, and now Iraq, one might think that Americans would recognize HONESTY and INTEGRITY as the most essential qualifier for any President. The Founding Fathers did, as the executive's requisite of character was much discussed in the Federalist Papers.

    Of all the candidates seeking either the Republican or Democratic nominations, only Ron Paul could accurately be described as honest. Obama's statements regarding Tony Rezko expose him as another Pinocchio. Hillary exposes herself as the same every time she opens her mouth. And McCain's Republican debate attack on Ron Paul not supporting the American Military was incredibly contemptible.

    We don't need political campaigns or conventions, we need Diogenes.

  2. Charles Keating
    April 18, 2008, 4:26 pm

    I agree that Ron Paul is the most honest, and the most informed and wise regarding the interactions between the economic, domestic, and foreign policy aggregate result that is the USA as it has transpired over the last century to 2008. My ideal would be Ron Paul as president, B Obama as VP. This important transition (Obama Prez after RP's single Prez term) is going to be regretted.

  3. Ken Hoop
    April 18, 2008, 5:24 pm

    Has Paul commented on Carter's visit? Ralph Nader's campaign has commended it, and the Hamas dialogue– while Obama has criticised it. I would vote for Paul or Nader, not Obama-but it is possible,only that, the latter is postponing a dramatic espousal of pro-Palestinian politics until he's in power.

  4. lester
    April 18, 2008, 6:49 pm

    another thing obama has going for him, besides his apparently impossibly brilliant book, is a key economic aide: Paul Volcker, the anti-greenspan. on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being dan quayle and 10 being, i don't know collimn powell pre-iraq war?, I'd say given the current (horrible) monetary circumstances, he rates about a 10. really the only one I can think of who can fix this mess and I say that because he did it before

  5. Michael Blaine
    April 18, 2008, 7:38 pm

    "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."

    I certainly hope you're right, Phil. If McCain wins, this country is finished.

  6. the Sword of Gideon
    April 18, 2008, 9:59 pm

    I guess that Obama isn't really a hack politician from the south side of Chicago. He is really the messiah. I can tell from the glow that he gives off whenever he speaks. Who after all is Charles Gibson who in his audacity asked a few questions that weren't completely fawning. He must not have gotten the word that Obama is really "the one". Lets hold a coranation instead of an election.

    Please tell me that all you guys will move to France if McCain wins. Or maybe Iran.

  7. Michael Blaine
    April 18, 2008, 10:26 pm

    "Please tell me that all you guys will move to France if McCain wins. Or maybe Iran."

    Completely classless, SoG.

    Fuck you.

  8. Michael Blaine
    April 18, 2008, 10:27 pm

    "Please tell me that all you guys will move to France if McCain wins. Or maybe Iran."

    Completely classless, SoG.

    F**k you.

  9. Michael Blaine
    April 18, 2008, 10:43 pm

    By the way, SoG, here are the rankings of France and the US, respectively, in the 2007 Human Development Index:

    10, and 12 (down six spots from 2006.)

    So, yeah, I probably should move to France or – better yet – Canada, which ranked 4th on the HDI, regardless of who wins the presidency in this ever-shittier country called the USA.

  10. Michael Blaine
    April 18, 2008, 10:46 pm

    Correction: The US dropped four spots in the rankings from '06 to '07.

  11. the Sword of Gideon
    April 18, 2008, 11:12 pm

    Hey Mike, "bon voyage".

  12. Glenn Condell
    April 19, 2008, 1:33 am

    There is a lovely piece on Obama by Jonathan Raban in the NYRev a few issues ago. He too was astonished by the quality of Obama's book.

  13. Charles Keating
    April 19, 2008, 1:30 pm

    Does it touch on when Obama was a community activist in black Chicago he was funded by that Syrian-American slumlord? Check out the details on how he bought his and Michelle's little cottage.

  14. bondo
    April 19, 2008, 2:03 pm

    jewish syrian, christian syrian, muslim syrian? curious.

  15. Charles Keating
    April 19, 2008, 2:41 pm

    Born in 1955 in Aleppo, Syria, to a Christian family in a Muslim community.

  16. bondo
    April 19, 2008, 3:10 pm

    Check out the details on how he bought his and Michelle's little cottage. Charles Keating

    how do i do this? is it posted above and i dont see?

  17. Charles Keating
    April 19, 2008, 5:03 pm

    Jut google Obama's Chicago history. It shows he's been playing the sleazy game for a long time, the very game he says he's against. Like all of them, he views means ok to the end, the day he's in power and will be Mister Justice. I met Ron Paul, and he's no Ron Paul, or Nader, or that Senator from Alaska who did so much for this nation his name is not known by 99% of the nation.

Leave a Reply