I struggled ever so much over what disc to attach to this book review, thinking that any disc would be seen to have some correlation to Obama. So, why not just go all out: a Canadian indie band that sings in French!
This is Feu Thérèse’s second disc. It comes from Constellation records, home of noisy, lengthy, downbeat records. In fact, Feu Thérèse is chock full of some of the big names in the Montreal underground: Alexandre St-Onge plays with noisy bands like Shalibi Effect and Jonathan Parant comes from noisy bands like Le Fly Pan Am. So, how did all of these factors possibly unite to make this disc?
Ca Va Cogner sounds like a analog synth party from 1980! The whole ensemble would be completely and utterly cheesy if the secret ingredient (which I cannot identify) did not make the whole thing work so well. The whole disc seems to be washed over with these groovy synths. I want to make comparisons to Kraftwerk, but that seems a little too cold. All of these songs are warm and soft, there’s even a children’s chorus on one of them. Other songs are instrumental, or have minimal singing. And “Le Bruit Du Pollen La Nuit” has a wonderfully smutty sounding spoken word track that recalls, of course, Serge Gainsbourg at his naughtiest (although I have no idea what this song is actually about).
I think what saves the disc from just being an 80’s French Europop band is the guitar and bass interplay. Those two guys take a lot of the sounds that they’ve mastered in their respective bands, and play them beneath all of the synths. It undercuts the intentional cheesiness of the keyboards with some awesome textures, and really brings everything to a remarkable whole. This probably won’t be anybody’s favorite disc, but it is very enjoyable, and worth tracking down, especially if you’re a Francophile.
[READ: October 15, 2008] The Audacity of Hope
Since I’ve been for Obama since the beginning, I figured I ought to read his book. It seemed especially apt now, since the McCain campaign is saying that we don’t “know anything about” Obama. Well, if you read this book, or, I suspect his OTHER autobiography, you could learn quite a bit about him. Unlike some other people who don’t grant interviews, hmmm. Okay, I had thought I would be able to review this book without referencing the current campiagn or the upcoming election, but it is simply impossible. Please deal with my Partisan Review.
I enjoyed this book so much more than I should have. Okay, in part because I agreed with him so much, but mostly because I enjoyed how well it was written, and how much it made me think. Obama brings up various issues, mulls them over, considers both sides of the story and brings the reader along through the decision making process. But best of all, the book is not just how hard it is to be a Senator, or what is it like to be a Senator, flying around in private jets all day. The book does address that, but it also addresses Obama as a person, as a community member, as a husband and a father. While you can never claim to know anyone because of a book they’ve written, I feel after reading this book that I know Obama just a little bit better. And I want him to be President even more.
Although for me, just the introduction was confirmation enough that everything he stands for is exactly what I want in a President:
I am a Democrat, after all; my views on most topics correspond more closely to the editorial pages of the New York Times than those of the Wall Street Journal. I am angry about policies that consistently favor the wealthy and powerful over average Americans, and insist that government has an important role in opening up opportunity to all. I believe in evolution, scientific inquiry, and global warming; I believe in free speech, whether politically correct or politically incorrect, and I am suspicious of using government to impose anybody’s religious beliefs–including my own–on nonbelievers…. But that is not all that I am. I also think my party can be smug, detached, and dogmatic at times. I believe in the free market, competition, and entrepreneurship, and think no small number of government programs don’t work as advertised. I wish the country had fewer lawyers and more engineers. I think America has more often been a force for good than for ill in the world; I carry few illusions about our enemies, and revere the courage and competence of our military. I reject a politics that is based solely on racial identity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or victimhood generally. I think much of what ails the inner city involves a breakdown in culture that will not be cured by money alone, and that our values and spiritual life matter at least as much as our GDP.
I’m going to assume that Obama wrote the book himself (as opposed to having a ghost writer). Everything about it suggests that it was him (the acknowledgment of time spent writing it, and the tone and writing style is exactly in his voice). And so, as has been noted by other reviewers, I will state that his prose is excellent. He has a wonderfully fluid and readable style. I haven’t read any other politicians’ memoirs or autobiographies, so I can’t say how this compares in that respect, but I was pleasantly surprised by his intelligent use of words and his clear style. I was thoroughly engaged by the book.
It’s hard to tell from the book whether or not he had plans to run for President while he was writing this. He never mentions it specifically. However, he did write it after his 2004 Democratic Convention speech made headlines for its passion and power, and when people were certainly speaking in terms of him running for office. Rather the book is about his past election battles (including one where he got trounced), and the issues he has dealt with in his time as a Senator. It’s almost audacious in itself that someone as relatively unknown politically as Obama was could write a book this big.
What I really took away from the book was not so much his policy plans (although they are many and are not only reasonable, but also seem quite do-able), but his need to examine all sides of an issue. One of the things that people have said about Obama is that he does not have a lot of experience in office. While this is technically true, it is quite evident from this book, that he is the kind of person who examines everything in his life. He takes incidents and sees the profundity in them. In this way, he has created a wealth of experience for himself. He has “worldly” experience based upon the political work he has done. In many ways, reading about how much thought he has put into these ideas, he has more experience than most politicians. Certainly more than Sarah Palin, who seems happy just to be along for the ride. Even more than George W Bush, who after 8 years as President, doesn’t appear to have thought very much about anything. I don’t mean that as a simply snub against Bush (who I have never liked at any time during his Presidency). I mean that as a snub against the persona he portrays: someone who has never reflected on anything, someone who has no curiosity about the world around him, someone who believes to quote Raising Arizona, “There’s what’s right and what’s right, and never the twain shall meet.” Whether or not that is how Bush actually is, I’ll never know, but that is certainly the public side that he presents.
On the other hand, in just two years as a Senator, Obama presents himself as having given a great deal of thought to every issue that he has had to address. And frankly, that’s the kind of person who should be in office.
But back to the book. I would try to summarize the book’s sections, but he does it for you:
Let me be more specific about how the book is organized. Chapter One takes stock of our recent political history and tries to explain some of the sources for today’s bitter partisanship. In Chapter Two, I discuss those common values that might serve as the foundation for a new political consensus. Chapter Three explores the Constitution not just as a source of individual rights, but also as a means of organizing a democratic conversation around our collective future. In Chapter Four, I try to convey some of the institutional forces–money, media, interest groups, and the legislative process–that stifle even the best-intentioned politician. And in the remaining five chapters, I suggest how we might move beyond our divisions to effectively tackle concrete problems: the growing economic insecurity of many American families, the racial and religious tensions within the body politic, and the transnational threats–from terrorism to pandemic–that gather beyond our shores.
I have written down a few quotes that I wanted to include here. Of course, that list is now missing. If I find it, I’ll include some more of my favorite excerpts from the book. But since the election is less than two weeks away, I’m going to post this with the few quotes whose pages I remembered.
One of the things that I like about Obama is his “humanness” or “decency” or just “niceness.” Most times, politicians can seem nice to the public but don’t seem very genuine about it, or show a different side of themselves when they don’t know they’re in front of the camera.
One thing that doesn’t really come up, but has come up a little bit in this campaign, is how a politicians’ family life suffers since he or she is in Washington while his or her family is back home. I had been reading a three-part article in The Walrus by Barry Campbell called “Politics as Unusual” (All 3 parts are available online, part one is available here). Campbell was a Liberal Party politician in Canada. As he reflects back on his time in office, he recalls very disturbing conversations with his family about how work has taken him away from them:
Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth, my boys, five and seven when I won the nomination, had become strangers frozen in time. I lived in Ottawa during the week and was thankful to be free of distractions from home. I’d fly home for weekends and make a point of spending as much time as possible with the boys. “The problem is,” my wife said, “you blow into town, change the rules, upset everything, try to be Super Dad, and then, come Sunday night, you’re gone again.”
I’d fly back to Ottawa every Sunday night, vowing to be a better husband and father next time out. I didn’t get it. My wife tried to tell me how bad things were. Self-absorbed and myopic, I didn’t hear her. Then, during a late-night phone conversation, I said, “I guess you’re like a single parent.” “Oh, it’s worse than that,” she said. “If I was a single parent, I would organize my life accordingly, simplify things. The problem is that you keep coming home.” This I couldn’t help but hear. And this: “What are you doing here?” my nine-year-old asked me one night when I appeared in his room.
And so I found this quote from Obama to be really moving. It’s not profound, but it’s interesting to hear a politician thank his wife in detail for her hard work, not just for “being supportive” or some such, but for actually raising his family for him while he’s away. And, it shows enough of Obama’s humanity that he realizes what his profession can do to his family while it is happening.
It was only upon reflection, after the trials of those years had passed and the kids had started school, that I began to appreciate what Michelle had been going through at the time, the struggles so typical of today’s working mother. For no matter how liberated I liked to see myself as–no matter how much I told myself that Michelle and I were equal partners, and that her dreams and ambitions were as important as my own–the fact was that when children showed up, it was Michele and not I who was expected to make the necessary adjustments. Sure, I helped, but it was always on my terms, on my schedule. Meanwhile, she was the one who had to put her career on hold. She was the one who had to make sure that the kids were fed and bathed every night. If Malia or Sasha got sick or the babysitter failed to show up, it was she who, more often than not, had to get on the phone to cancel a meeting at work.
This next quote was fantastic for its ability to bring Obama back down to earth. The McCain campaign has tried to portray him as a celebrity, but this passage from the book certainly shoots that down. It’s also funny that he happens to mention McCain in this context.
One day in February I found myself in particularly good spirits, having just completed a hearing on legislation that Dick Lugar and I were sponsoring aimed at restricting weapons proliferation and the black-market arms trade. Because Dick was not only the Senate’s leading expert on proliferation issues but also chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, prospects for the bill seemed promising. Wanting to share the good news, I called Michelle from my D.C. office and started explaining the significance of the bill – how shoulder-to-air missiles could threaten commercial air travel if they fell into the wrong hands, how small-arms stockpiles left over from the Cold War continued to feed conflict across the globe. Michelle cut me off.
“We have ants.”
“I found ants in the kitchen. And in the bathroom upstairs.”
“I need you to buy some ant traps on your way home tomorrow. I’d get them myself, but I’ve got to take the girls to their doctor’s appointment after school. Can you do that for me?”
“Right. Ant traps.”
“Ant traps. Don’t forget, okay honey? And buy more than one. Listen, I need to go to a meeting. Love you.”
I hung up the receiver, wondering if Ted Kennedy or John McCain bought ant traps on the way home from work.
That little glimpse into actual policymaking leads me to this one. Obama was talking to his campaign manager about negative ads the Republicans could use in an upcoming race. While that part wasn’t novel to me, it was the look into what actually happens when a politician votes. Like, can you vote no on a bill by mistake?
Running down the list I came across a claim that while in the state legislature I had voted against a bill to “protect our children from sex offenders.”
“Wait a minute” I said, snatching the sheet from David’s hands. “I accidentally pressed the wrong button on that bill. I meant to vote aye, and had it immediately corrected on the official record.”
David smiled, “some how I don’t think that portion of the official record will make it into a Republican ad.”
Who knew that politicians could press the wrong button in a vote? And, more importantly, who knew that the official voting record would indicate that mistake as intentional? I found this little peek into public life completely fascinating.
It’s also fun to see what somebody said or did a few years ago and compare it to what they say or do now. In politics they lamely call this flip-flopping, as if a person couldn’t have nuanced positions on subjects. But it is often interesting to see what things a person changes his mind on, and what caused such a change of heart.
With that in mind, I wanted to see what Obama had to say about McCain back in 2006. He mentions John McCain 3 times in the book. The first is when he mentions legislation that is “so obviously right that it merits little internal debate (John McCain’s amendment prohibiting torture by the US government comes to mind).” The second mention concerns the immigration reform bill: “Under the leadership of Ted Kennedy and John McCain, the Senate crafted a compromise bill with three major components….” And the third is the above reference to ants.
While I wouldn’t expect him to bad mouth McCain indiscriminately, he does mention some other politicians with whom he disagrees quite a lot. It’s interesting to see that he brings McCain up just to show him some respect. It’s also interesting to see that the two things that he singles out McCain for as worthy of praise are two things that McCain eventually turned away from later on. (In Feb 2008 McCain voted against a ban on waterboarding (although he claims there were other provisions that he was actually voting against, and in Jan 2008, he said he would not vote for his own immigration reform bill.)
Another current hot topic is that Bill Clinton doesn’t like Obama. I have no idea if this is true, and unless he came out and said it, I wouldn’t know how to prove it. But it’s the story that is circulating these days. Anyhow, Obama has nothing but good things to say about Clinton throughout the book. Clearly, Clinton is the only recent Democrat in a sea of Republican presidents, but still, not a bad word is said about him. He gets about a dozen references, and almost all of them heap praise on the policies and stances that the President has taken. So, whether or not Bill dislikes Barack, it’s clear that the feeling (at least in 2006) was not mutual.
One thing that has bothered me throughout this campaign is the idea that Obama is bad for the country, that he is dangerous, or as has been coming out lately, that he pals with terrorists.
I must interrupt myself and shout: How could ANYONE in good conscience vote for a man whose campaign appearances enticed supporters to shout “terrorist” or “kill him” about not just an opponent, but a current sitting member of the Senate?
The Audacity of Hope shows that Obama is thoughtful and concerned about the welfare of this country. Whether or not you agree with his politics or his stances, it is simply absurd to claim that he harbors ill will towards America or Americans. I’ll close my review with the last line of his book. Again, it may not be profound, but it should quell any thoughts that Obama is a “terrorist.”
My heart is filled with love for this country.
I hope that in two weeks I can call him Mr. President. And I hope that several years after that I’ll be reading his follow-up book.