DISCLAIMER: This post is long as crap.  Seriously, scroll down and take a look.  Do you really want to read this?  I won’t lie.  If I was just looking for something light and fun to read, I would totally skip this joint.  I’d probably check out this guy’s blog instead (hilarious).  But, if for some reason you’re inclined to read my ramblings about this book, go for it!

OK, end of disclaimer.

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Having finished my Bill Bryson book on vacation and having nothing else to read, I picked up Barack Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope” at a bookstore on a whim.  I was curious if what Barack had to say in his book was any different from what I’d been learning about him via the media for the past year.  Some things came as no surprise, but some of what I read gave me unexpected insights into the man himself and his values.  Here are a few of my basic observations…

1.  He’s smart.   OK, duh.  He graduated at the top of his Harvard Law class.  But it would seriously be hard to argue against the idea that Obama is a remarkably intelligent guy.  His analysis in the book of national and world issues are clear-cut and detailed when appropriate.  His well-rounded observations signify the high value he places (and has long placed) on educating himself on a broad scope of issues.  His keen familiarity with American history, combined with a commanding knowledge of other cultures, is impressive.

At times, the book actually reads more like a college lecture than a political analysis.  A former law professor, Obama is obviously in his element as he provides thoughtful insights into human history and its implications today.  It’s obvious that he isn’t just some emotion-manipulating rock star preaching an ambiguous message of change (like some of his critics would suggest.)  While he may be a relative newcomer, Obama knows what he’s talking about.

2.  His experience is unique.   I’ve heard few politicians draw such thoughtful conclusions as Barack Obama.  I specifically applaud his blunt but even-handed discussion on race in America.  While he admits that he enjoyed a more peaceful childhood than most blacks, he is also painfully candid about the racial division he’s lived in the midst of in Chicago (and indeed, that exists in most American cities).  In this regard, he has the invaluable advantage of a more experience-informed view of the whole of America (and indeed, the world).

This is particularly evident in the area of social issues.  While most politicians (I would hope) have at least a rudimentary awareness of poverty and injustice, Barack has lived and worked in direct, continued contact with these vices as a community organizer in Chicago.  No doubt he is personally familiar with the nuances and experiences of inner-city life that can’t be fully understood by occasionally driving through a poor neighborhood or watching a TV documentary.  What’s remarkable is that he thrives in the bipolar environments of the low-income working class and the lofty circles of wealthy academia.  He seems to be highly respected by both inner-city families on welfare and Harvard Law graduates with seven-figure salaries.  The vast majority of his political counterparts simply can’t make that claim.

Obama’s relatively brief career in national politics causes some to be concerned, and for good reason.  I certainly understand the desire to have as President a man who “knows the ropes” before taking office.  Conversely though, I also think that for veteran politicians, all those years of increasingly ugly bipartisanship can cause progress-stinting bitterness, making having too much political experience a potential liability.  So, of course Obama’s limited political experience should be accounted for, but not without also seeing the hidden benefits of fresh new talent.

3.  He’s not a raving liberal maniac.   Maybe that depends on your definition of “raving” and “maniac”, but the point here is that while Obama is a true progressive, he’s not an extreme, post-religious, post-moral, hyper-secularist fanatic.  This is particularly evident in the book’s chapters on faith and family.  While most liberals tend to steer clear of these topics in favor of talking about pluralism, tolerance, etc., Obama doesn’t hesitate to express his dismay at the moral degradation of our culture, and his desire that his daughters be raised to hold Christian faith, family, and moral decency in high regard.  He protests greedy consumerism, pleading for a return to the virtues of simple living and “delayed gratification.”  While he remains true to his belief that the government should never exert itself as a moral authority (a belief I share with him), he implores parents to take a more active role in being a positive moral influence for their kids.

While I’m don’t completely agree with all of his policies, I’m excited about the direction it seems he wants to take our country in, and his book left a good impression on me.  Obama is clearly a man with big dreams and big confidence that those dreams can be eventually realized.  Many have criticized his optimism, calling him naive or idealistic.  But I like to think that our country can, in fact, begin to make some fundamental changes for the better.  Of course, I’m wary of those Obama supporters who paint him as a panacea for every problem we face.  (Here are some more of my thoughts on this.)  But if Barack’s values and goals are what he says they are in this book, I believe he has unique and great potential to help push towards “a more perfect union.”

Casting a vote for any candidate is always a gamble (sometimes a costly one as with our current President), and Obama certainly has his share of shortcomings.  But by and large, what I’ve seen and read so far gives me considerable confidence that a vote for the Illinois Senator seems like a pretty solid bet.

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