Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Book Review: The Audacity of Hope

During my break, I finally got the chance to read Obama’s The Audacity of Hope. Anyone still trying to decide between Obama, Clinton, and McCain should read this book, written a year before his campaign began.  It is not as powerful as Dreams From My Father (his first book, written before he ran for any public office), but it gives you deep insights into how he thinks and approaches life and politics.

I read books in the order they appear, figuring authors arranged their chapters that way for a purpose.  But white evangelical Christians, who have heard decades of propaganda against Democrats not being “true Christians,” or those who have heard the recent propaganda against Obama’s faith (either the “secret Muslim” nonsense–most recently encouraged by Newt Gingrich!–or the attacks on his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright), may want to begin with the chapter on “Faith” and then go back to the beginning.

This is one of the most honest books I have ever read by a politician.  It is thoughtful and shows how Obama seeks to learn from those with whom he disagrees–on almost everything.  While critical of the Clintons in places, it also has numerous places of praise for them. The same is true of several Republicans.

The real context of his “bitter” remark is here, too. The term “bitter” was unfortunate, but far from being an attempt to disrespect working class whites (or their religion), it was an attempt to describe the way some of their resentments are justified–but have been shamefully manipulated.  All throughout the book, Obama sticks to his progressive principles while trying to get people to understand each other.

If I were not already committed to vote for Obama, this book would have convinced me.  That’s what I told people here in KY when making calls for the Obama campaign, yesterday, too.  (Obama seems to have the edge here in Louisville, but, not in rural KY–yet.)  It also answers the numerous charges of “he’s all talk,” by giving major substantive approaches to most of the problems facing the nation. 

Not that I always agree.  A convinced pacifist, I still think his Just War approach to foreign policy is not bold enough in peacemaking efforts–but what a huge improvement over a policy of preemptive wars!  Likewise, I don’t think reforming death penalty systems is enough–I want capital punishment abolished.

But I am not voting for sainthood or perfection, but for someone who can lead the country in a better direction–not just a return to the ’90s, either.  I have no doubt a president Obama will make mistakes. I see problems in this book that indicate that.  But, it also shows a man deeply aware of how even the best politicians can become out of touch, can go wrong, can be sucked into a system that gives us more of the same.  That awareness, which permeates throughout this book, might be a helpful innoculation.

This one is worth reading even if one is a diehard Republican who is already committed to voting for McCain. Why? Because, this is not a campaign book, but an appeal to the U.S. people to seek answers together for the many problems we face. It’s an invitation to conversation.  I urge readers to read this and join the conversation.


April 21, 2008 Posted by | U.S. politics | 8 Comments