[The Monitor occasionally reprints book reviews of current interest. This review of "The Audacity of Hope" by Barack Obama originally ran in the Monitor on Jan. 30., 2007.] It's easy to see why The Audacity of Hope quickly shot up to the top of the bestseller list. In a refreshing voice, presidential hopeful Barack Obama gives readers a blueprint of his view that America requires "a different kind of politics."
Coming off as an earnest – if somewhat wide-eyed – new senator, Obama gives sweeping assessments of the country's intractable concerns: healthcare, education, and energy.
Obama advocates, for instance, for universal healthcare, but leaves the details to be ironed out. If he decides to push beyond an exploratory presidential bid, the generalities won't be enough. But his writing is at least refreshingly free of the vitriol and nuanced policy positions that characterize the debates in Washington.
Obama takes on the most divisive topics in America, such as race and social issues, in a way that shows respect for alternate views. A constituent who has problems with Obama's pro-choice position on abortion receives a personal letter from the Senate candidate. On race, he's firmly in favor of affirmation action, but notes how "many Americans disagree ... arguing that our institutions should never take race into account. Fair enough – I understand their arguments."
Obama aims, too, for Americans to relate to the woes of politicians by placing them on a basic human level. Politicians are driven to win, not only by ambition, but also because they fear the humiliation of losing. "It's impossible not to feel at some level as if you have been personally repudiated by the entire community." Obama says he still "burns" over the "drubbing" he took in 2000, when he lost by 31 points to incumbent US Rep. Bobby Rush (D) of Illinois.
In several other places, Obama is surprisingly candid, opening up about vulnerabilities, such as his discomfort at spending time away from his family and the role that his Christian faith plays in his life. He describes the search for meaning that led him to be baptized as an adult.
But unresolved questions and sensitivity on faith matters dogged him during his Senate race. While debating opponent Alan Keyes, Obama was thrown by Keyes's statement that he wasn't a true Christian partly because of his support for abortion rights.
"I was frequently tongue-tied, irritable, and uncharacteristically tense" while debating Keyes, he writes. It leaves one wondering how he'd handle a more formidable opponent.
Yet the openness and eloquence with which Obama shares his personal story interwoven with his broad vision for America is compelling. For those who have been disillusioned by the divisiveness of politics, Obama inspires.
Ari Pinkus was a national news editor at the Monitor.