Monday, July 07, 2008
Reading Dreams From My Father re-affirmed my instincts about Barack Obama: that he's a profound thinker, a remarkably compassionate person, and an idealist who's learned hard lessons about making dreams a reality. I'll add to my list that Obama is a damn fine writer.
The book is not simply autobiographical. Obama asks big questions about race and heritage. He writes wonderful travelogue about his time in Hawaii and Indonesia and Kenya. He moves gracefully from the personal and into the universal, and ties disparate moments of his life together in an elegant narrative. Nothing here made me doubt that Obama would be the least manipulative and most intellectually capable person to inhabit the Oval Office in a long time. I doubt George Bush could read a book like this without a dictionary, let alone write one.
But I do have questions. Compassion and profound thinking are gifts to a point; they can also be earmarks of an ineffective leader. Obama is caving on FISA and his statements about Iraq suddenly evince Clintonesque parsing. I know he's meeting with her donors this week, and the reality of two-party politics of course forces him to at least outwardly toe the party line and make distasteful gestures of compromise to please the big corporate donors and the various competing centrist and conservative groups under the Democratic umbrella. Lefties like me who project their hopes on him will have to be patient. Only time will prove us wise or foolish in our choice. Is he doing what he has to in order to win, planning eventually to live up to his ideals? Or is he a mere politician, a moral chameleon who will change his ideals to get power?
Nothing in this fine book gives me pause about my choice to back Barack. I'm in fact more willing after reading this to cut him slack when he does things I think are wrong or bone-headed. Some slack.
I wore my B'more for Obama shirt Saturday while doing errands. An African American gentleman gave me a 'fist-bump for recycling' as we emptied our bins in the single-stream containers at the Sisson Ave center. "I'm angry about the telecom phone waffling," he said. "But I'm counting on Obama to be one of us working on the inside. Sometimes he'll have to compromise in ways that piss us off, and I think we're seeing that now." I told him about the book and recommended he read it as we stood ankle-deep in tuna cans and wine bottles. I told him the book made me hopeful for the first time in a while about the state of our politics. "Michelle will keep his ass in line," the man said as he returned to his idling red convertable Beemer.
The same shirt got me glares as I dropped off a clothing donation at the Anarchist-run 2640 Space. I recognized some Greens there as well. Can Obama pull other disillusioned third-party dabblers and activists together? Can he do what he did in the Chicago slums on a national scale? Can he beat an aging, inarticulate war hero whose policy stances are to the right of Barry Goldwater?
It's a fun time to be alive.