Monday, September 12, 2016

The Audacity of Hope


I bought this book way  back in 2012, when I had just moved back home from the United States, and Obama had been reelected for a second term. Having been through the election frenzy, surrounded by both passionate Democrats and Republicans, I had really enjoyed the entire process of the election. I never got around to reading the book, until now. But I vividly remember why I bought it. I stood there in the bookshop looking at the title and analysing it for a moment. Why would he use the word 'audacity'? There are a lot of less audacious synonyms for the word. Courage could have been a slightly meeker option. I was also struck by the rest of the title. How can something so fleeting and changeable as 'hope' be full of an emotion reserved for words like passion, greed and ambition?

Now that I have finally read it, Obama's tenure as the President of  the United States is almost over. On second thoughts, there could be no better time to write this review than right now!

On the surface, the book is just like the President. You don't come across a bold plan, or a radical rhetoric. To a great extent, it felt like reading Amartya Sen. The narrative of his early life explains his constant (and sometimes boring) sense of balance between both sides. The book is neatly divided into nine chapters, each one a balanced essay on the topic at hand. In the first few chapters, it comes across slightly contrived, or so it appeared to me, considering that he wrote this before running for president and he was just being very careful in his approach towards controversial issues. In the first five or so chapters, his positions definitely seem rather "safe".

However, his writings on faith and on race are so well thought and presented that they transcend the "American context". Particularly moving are his observations on inner city Black poverty, the neglected Black neighborhoods and the breakdown of the Black family unit as such in America. What is also remarkable is his ability to present both sides of the issue, even when it comes to race and welfare state.

And now that we look back, President Obama has done something productive about almost everything he talks about in this book. Whether it is the passing the Affordable Health Care Act or the capture and killing of Bin Laden. The US saw the repeal of the Don't ask Don't Tell policy, ensuring people of the LGBT community can now serve openly in the US armed forces. He has achieved almost everything he had promised. It kind of brings home the point that big changes need not be accomplished by waging wars. Big changes can be brought about through collaborations and team work. And the face of change doesn't have to be one person.

His choice of the word 'audacity' was inspired by a sermon. However, I think his presidency has given the title a new meaning. It was historical in many ways. He was the first (half) Black president with a paranoia inducing middle name, to win an election post 9/11. He took control during a recession and promised changes which seemed too difficult to achieve given the socio economic mood of the nation. Yet, he has managed to accomplish things which most of his predecessors couldn't.


No comments: