The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Barack Obama

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  1. Republicans and Democrats
  2. Values
  3. Our Constitution
  4. Politics
  5. Opportunity
  6. Faith
  7. Race
  8. The World Beyond Our Borders
  9. Family

Key Quotations

Some key quotations are included.


Recounts his initial failure to win a national congressional seat:

"Someone once said that every man is trying to either live up to his father's expectations or make up for his father's mistakes, and I suppose that may explain my particular malady [a chronic restlessness] as well as anything else.
   In any event, it was as a consequence of that restlessness that I decided to challenge a sitting Democratic incumbent for his congressional seat in the 2000 election cycle. It was an ill-considered race, and I lost badly--the sort of drubbing that awakens you to the fact that life is not obliged to work out as you'd planned." [p. 3].

Goes on to explain his ultimate acceptance of this loss, and of the unfortunate similarity to his name of the terrorist Obama's name. Despite or because of which:

"it was this acceptance, I think, that allowed me to come up with the thoroughly cockeyed idea of running for the Unite States senate ... long odds against me" [p. 5].

As we now know, despite his initial low expectations that he would win, Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate.

As throughout the book, he writes about what he hears from potential constituents, the roots of this book:

"This book grows directly out of those conversations on the campaign trail. Not only did my encounters with voters confirm the fundamental decency of the American people, they also reminded me that at the core of the American experience are a set of ideals that continue to stir our collective conscience; a common set of values that bind us together despite our differences; a running thread of hope that makes our improbably experiment in democracy work.
    ... That's the topic of this book: how we might begin the process of changing our politics and our civic life.
    ... Although I discuss in each chapter a number of our most pressing policy challenges, and suggest in broad strokes the path I believe we should follow, my treatment of the issues is often partial and incomplete. I offer no unifying theory of American government, nor do these pages provide a manifesto for action, complete with charts and graphs, timetables and ten-point plans." [p. 8-9].

Toward the end of the chapter, Obama gives a valiant summary of his main beliefs:

"I am angry about policies that consistently favor the wealthy and powerful over average Americans, and [I] insist that government has an important role in opening up opportunity to all. I believe in evolution, scientific inquiry, and global warming; I believe in free speech, whether politically correct or politically incorrect, and I am suspicious of using government to impose anybody's religious beliefs--including my own--on nonbelievers. ... I can't help but view the American experience through the lens of a black man of mixed heritage, forever mindful of how generations of people who looked like me were subjugated and stigmatized, and the subtle and not so subtle ways that race and class continue to shape our lives.
    ... I reject a politics that is based solely on racial identity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or victimhood generally. I think much of what ails the inner city involves a breakdown in culture that will not be cured by money alone, and that our values and spiritual life matter at least as much as our GDP." [p. 10-11].

1. Republicans and Democrats

Obama "takes stock of our recent political history and tries to explain some of the sources for today's bitter partisanship" [p. 9].

He observes that:

"Theoretically the Republican Party might have produced its own Clinton, a center-right leader who built on Clinton's fiscal conservatism while moving more aggressively to revamp a creaky federal bureaucracy and experiment with market- or faith-based solutions to social problems.
    ... But these Republicans are not the ones who have driven the debate over the past six years. ... what has characterized the ideological core of today's GOP is absolutism, not conservatism. There is the absolutism of the free market, an ideology of no taxes, no regulation, no safety net--indeed, no government beyond what is required to protect private property and provide for the national defense." [p. 37].

He writes of the citizens he has met and then:

"I imagine they are waiting for a politics with the maturity to balance idealism and realism, to balance between what can and what cannot be compromised, to admit the possibility that the other side might sometimes have a point. They don't always understand the difference between right and left, conservative and liberal, but they recognize the difference between dogma and common sense, responsibility and irresponsibility, between those things that last and those things that are fleeting.
    They are out there, waiting for Republicans and Democrats to catch up with them." [p. 42].

2. Values

Obama discusses "those common values that might serve as the foundation for a new political consensus" [p. 9-10].

He observes:

"In a country as diverse as ours, there will always be passionate arguments about how we draw the line when it comes to government action. That is how our democracy works. But our democracy might work a bit better if we recognized that all of us possess values that are worthy of respect: if liberals at least acknowledged that the recreational hunter feels the same way about his gun that they feel about their library books, and if conservatives recognized that more women feel as protective of their right to reproductive freedom as evangelicals do of their right to worship." [p. 57].

Includes specifics about the stalker-type observer ('Justin') the opposing Republican campaign sent to plague Obama. Fairly soon, Obama strolled into the press office of the state capitol building, invited some of the reporters to gather round: "'I want to introduce you to Justin. Justin here's been assigned by the Ryan campaign to stalk me wherever I go.'" [p. 65].

As a results "the story ended up blanketing the state [Illinois] for a week-- cartoons, editorials, and radio sports chatter" [p. 65].

But it still required several days before his opponent "succumbed to the pressure, asked Justin to back up a few feet, and issued an apology" [p. 65].

Such rude (and perhaps illegal) behavior instigated by a political opponent reinforces Obama's concern that:

"as a country, we seem to be suffering an empathy deficit. ... And no one is exempt from the call to find common ground." [p. 67-68].

3. Our Constitution

Obama "explores the Constitution not just as a source of individual rights, but also as a means of organizing a democratic conversation around our collective future" [p. 10].

For me, this is one of the finest chapters. Obama is a constitutional lawyer and has a reverence for and a depth of thoughtfulness about our constitution that is very welcome.

"Yet for all our disagreements we would be hard-pressed to find a conservative or liberal in America today, whether Republican or Democrat, acedemic or layman, who doesn't subscribe to the basic set of individual liberties identified by the Founders and enshrined in our Constitution and our common law: the right to speak our minds; the right to worship how and if we wish; the right to peaceably assemble to petition our government; the right to own, buy, and sell property and not have it taken without fair compensation; the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures; the right not to be detained by the state without due process; the right to a fair and speedy trial; and the right to make our own determinations, with minimal restrictions, regarding family life and the way we raise out children." [p. 86].

4. Politics

Obama works "to convey some of the institutional forces--money, media, interest groups, and the legislative process-- that stifle even the best-intentioned politicians" [p. 10].

5. Opportunity

In this and the other remaining chapters, Obama "explores the Constitution not just as a source of individual rights, but also as a means of organizing a democratic conversation around our collective future: the growing economic insecurities of many American families, the racial and religious tensions within the body politic, and the transnational threats--from terror to pandemic--that gather beyond our shores" [p. 10].

While he meets with and quotes many people from the unknown to the famous, what strikes me strongest is his quotation from the second richest man in the world, Warren Buffet, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway:

"'The free market's the best mechanism ever devised to put resources to their most efficient and productive use ... The government isn't particularly good at doing that. But the market isn't so good at make sure that the wealth that's produced is being distributed fairly and wisely. Some of that wealth has to be ploughed back into education, so that the next generation has a fair chance, and to maintain our infrastructure, and to provide some sort of safety net for those who lose out in a market economy. And it just makes sense that those of us who've benefited most from the market should pay a bigger share." [p. 190].

6. Faith

"Over the long haul, I think we make a mistake when we fail to acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people, and so avoid joining a serious debate about how to recognize faith with our modern, pluralistic democracy." [p. 213-214].

7. Race

Speaks of his own multiracial family, of blacks, Latinos, of the continuing rich flow of immigrants. Concludes:

"Ultimately the danger to our way of life is not that we will be overrun by those who do not look like us or do not yet speak our language. The danger will come if we fail to recognize the humanity of Christina and her family [an example he'd given of a third-grade girl asking for his autograph and translating to her parents. Ed.] -- if we withhold from them the rights and opportunities that we take for granted, and tolerate the hypocrisy of a servant class in our midst; or more broadly, if we stand idly by as America continues to become increasingly unequal, an inequality that tracks racial lines and therefore feeds racial strife and which, as the country becomes more black and brown, neither our democracy nor our economy can long withstand.
    ... The issues my girls and Christina confront may lack the stark moral clarity of a segregated bus, but in one form or another their generation will surely be tested--just as Mrs. Parks was tested--by those voices that would divide us and have us turn on each other.
    And when they are tested in that way, I hope Christina and my daughters will have all read about the history of this country and will recognize they have been given something precious." [p. 213-214].

8. The World Beyond Our Borders

Begins with his experience of living in Indonesia (the world's fourth most populous country), to which he moved (at the age of six) with his mother, because of her second marriage. Then reviews the various inward-looking and outward-looking eras in Washington, culminating in the third millennium, the W.T.C. terrorist attacks, the invasion of Afghanistan, and the second invasion of Iraq.

"We have the right to take unilateral military action to eliminate an imminent threat to our security--so long as an imminent threat is understood to be a nation, group, or individual that is actively preparing to strike U.S. targets (or allies with which the United States has mutual defense agreements), and has or will have the means to do so in the immediate future. Al Quaeda qualifies under this standard, and we can and should carry out preemptive strikes against them wherever we can. Iraq under Saddam Hussein did not meet this standard, which is why our invasion was such a strategic blunder.
    ... Once we get beyond matters of self-defense, though, I'm convinced that it will almost always be in our strategic interest to act multilaterally rather than unilaterally when we use force around the world. ... engaging in the hard diplomatic work of obtaining most of the world's support for our actions, and making sure our actions serve to further recognize international norms.
    Why conduct ourselves in this way? Because nobody benefits more than we do from the observance of international 'rules of the road.' We can't win converts to those rules if we act as if they apply to everybody but us." [p. 308-309].

9. Family

Writes of families in the United States, his own wife, and his daughters.


Summarizes what has not changed and what has changed since he was sworn in to the US Senate in January 2005. Concludes with: "My heart is filled with love for this country." [p. 362].

All quotes are from the hard-copy first edition