It was one of those awful travel days yesterday — a two hour flight delay out of Manchester, NH (don’t ask) into Chicago, which, of course, screwed up the rest of the trip. Lots of airport time. Not a book on me.
So it was off to the airport gift shop’s “book section.” Not a lot of choices, but one title caught my eye, something I’ve been meaning to read: The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama.
And yes, I know, this book is sooo 2006. That’s just me: I never get around to reading the hot books until long after they’ve stopped being hot. Speaking of which, have you ever read something I picked up the other day called The Great Gatsby? I’m not sure, but I don’t think it’s on the best seller list anymore (actually it never was).
In any case, I had an ulterior motive for wanting to read Obama’s book. It wasn’t the fact that many reviewers have said, very unlike most books by politicians, this one is beautifully written (and it is). No, I tore into The Audacity of Hope not so much in search of a good read, but in search of the real Barack Obama.
I want him to be as good as he looks. I want him to be the inspirational leader we need to take us into tomorrow (hell, to catch up with today, for that matter). But the truth is I don’t know him very well. Beyond the pretty face and the pretty words much of the man remains a gaping mystery. So I went looking for him.
But I don’t think I found him in his book. What I found, instead, is a beautiful, but also very carefully crafted, persona: I found the person Obama wants us to believe he is. As to whether he really is that person though, this book gives me not a clue.
Why do I say this? There’s just something far too convenient in where he draws the lines for his deeply felt beliefs. He thinks (correctly) that the death penalty doesn’t deter crime and is dangerously flawed . . . yet (there are an awful lot of yets with Obama) he still thinks it’s appropriate for society to execute the really, really bad murderers as opposed, I guess, to the only sort of bad murderers. Being the unquestionably brilliant man he is, Obama must know this is a distinction without meaning, and utterly beyond definition.
But given the public’s view on capital punishment, it is a convenient one to draw. This convenience of belief recurs often, troublingly so.
And no, of course, this makes him no worse than any other politician. But you see, I was hoping for something better than no worse.
There is also an unmistakable element of intellectual dishonesty in how Obama tries to paint his self-portrait as the sensible man in the middle — as the one reasonable soul in an ocean of partisan fanatics. He often commits the sin of false equivalency. Yes, conservatives are bad about this, he will say, but then he will always quickly add that liberals are equally bad about that. But the truth, of course, is that usually they aren’t. How could they be? As of the time he wrote the book, liberalism had been all but politically powerless for over a decade.
I’m far from giving Obama a thumbs down. I’m still very intrigued — still very hopeful.
But I’m not sold. Not yet.