Obama, A Promised Land - Part 1

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Obama, A Promised Land - Part 1

Redigeret: nov 29, 2020, 11:23pm

Background: Part One includes a short preface and four chapters about Obama's life up to his decision to run for president. The preface (excerpted in the Atlantic https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/11/barack-obama-i-still-believe-a...) is programmatic. Obama mentions Trump—always obliquely—and how the writing overlapped with the Trump administration. FWIW, I think it hangs over the whole book.

Part One itself is all the rest of his life up until deciding to run for president, especially the years right before, because Obama had gone into his upbringing a lot more in The Audacity of Hope. Obama's rise seems improbable.


1. What are your first impressions?
2. Any favorite passages?
3. What events do you remember yourself, and how? Election of Harold Washington? Obama's DNC speech?

If you want to check them out, here are two sets of rather formal questions:
* Penguin https://www.penguin.com.au/book-clubs/2922-a-promised-land-book-club-notes
* Book Club Chat https://bookclubchat.com/books/book-club-questions-and-discussion-for-a-promised...

Redigeret: nov 29, 2020, 11:18pm

First impressions:

1. Obama is not my policy twin, but I just like the guy. He has a great authorial voice. And it helps that he voices the audiobook.
2. The best parts are when Obama reveals something about himself or goes past simple narrative or his thinking at the time—which often seems like outtakes from speeches—to more in-depth analysis. Such occasions are great, they are few and far between. Part one has a lot.
3. I think he images his audience as mostly people on the left, especially to the left of him.
I recognize that there are those who believe that it’s time to discard the myth—that an examination of America’s past and an even cursory glance at today’s headlines show that this nation’s ideals have always been secondary to conquest and subjugation, a racial caste system and rapacious capitalism, and that to pretend otherwise is to be complicit in a game that was rigged from the start. And I confess that there have been times during the course of writing this book, as I’ve reflected on my presidency and all that’s happened since, when I’ve had to ask myself whether I was too tempered in speaking the truth as I saw it, too cautious in either word or deed, convinced as I was that by appealing to what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature I stood a greater chance of leading us in the direction of the America we’ve been promised.

I don’t know.

Favorite Passages: He's pretty savage on the young, half-baked Obama. This passage is pretty funny. It wasn't me in college, but it rings true:
Looking back, it’s embarrassing to recognize the degree to which my intellectual curiosity those first two years of college paralleled the interests of various women I was attempting to get to know: Marx and Marcuse so I had something to say to the long-legged socialist who lived in my dorm; Fanon and Gwendolyn Brooks for the smooth-skinned sociology major who never gave me a second look; Foucault and Woolf for the ethereal bisexual who wore mostly black. As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless; I found myself in a series of affectionate but chaste friendships.

nov 30, 2020, 10:55am

First Impressions - I found Part 1 to be a very good summary of the first 46 years, mostly his philosophical growth and political aspirations. I was not surprised to read about Michelle’s unhappiness at his time spent in politics from the earliest days of their marriage and her initial No to his running for President; however, it is only because of what he’s said since he left office. He makes a compelling argument for the outside support/pressures to run and his internal drive and acknowledgement that he ran at the right time for himself and the country.

It’s always a pleasure to read a book that’s interesting from the start, holds my attention, and is intelligent and forward moving. He needed to put to rest his biracial, abandoned-as-a-child-by-his-father, and insecure emotional sense of self. Michelle and the girls were and are a huge and positive part of who/what he is, but all of her wanting him to not be in politics didn’t override his listening to the people who told him he should be in politics along with his personal desire to be in politics. I wonder how early he truly thought about running for President?

Favorite passages - way too many. However, I see the following passage as one which highlights the family dynamic, one of the first times he was recognized and mobbed, page 60.
”I think you need an alias,” Malia declared from the backseat.
“What’s an alias?” Sasha asked.
“It’s a fake name you use when you don’t want people to know who you are,” Malia explained. “Like “Johnny McJohn John.”
Sasha giggled. “Year, Daddy… you should be Johnny McJohn John.”
“And you need to disguise your voice,” Malia added. “People recognize it. You have to talk with a higher voice. And faster.”
“Daddy talks so slow,” Sasha said.
“Come on, Daddy,” Malia said. “Try it.” She shifted into the highest-pitched, fastest voice she could muster saying, “Hi, I’m Johnny McJohn John!”
Unable to contain himself, Mike burst out laughing. Later, when we got home, Malia proudly explained her scheme to Michelle, who patted her on the head.
“That’s a great idea, honey,” she said, “but the only way for Daddy to disguise himself is if he has an operation to pin back his ears.”
Events I remember - It’s a sad thing to have to admit, but I remember Obama in light of a happy background to my busy-ness working/wifing/mothering. I don’t watch the Conventions so didn’t see his 2004 speech and watched the inaugurations on YouTube after the fact. Things were going ‘my way’ politically, the world was safe for democracy, and I rarely followed politics in detail.

nov 30, 2020, 11:24am

First Impressions
It felt so. darn. good. to be back in Obama-land. I read Michelle's memoir, Becoming, last year so I enjoyed reading Barack's account of topics she also covered: the formative years of their relationship, marriage, and parenthood, and her response to his political ambitions. Concerning the latter, he was actually harder on himself than she was. I absolutely love both his modesty and candor.

I liked the scene after the Democratic National Convention, when the Obama family headed out on an RV trip as part of his Senate campaign. They were repeatedly met with huge crowds ("you're gonna need a bigger boat" -- p. 53). And then there was a bit between Barack and Michelle after he won the Senate election, when his book deal also came through: "Magic beans, baby. Magic beans." (p. 54)

It was also interesting to read about things that happened behind-the-scenes, like Harry Reid's role in influencing Obama to run for President.

Events I Remember
In the summer of 2004, we were in the midst of a family relocation, returning to the US after four years in the UK. We lived in the UK during 9/11 and its aftermath, and our eyes were opened to the international views towards the US government. We returned to a much-changed country and paid more attention to the Presidential election than ever before. So there we were, squished into a temporary apartment with two young kids and some pets, when suddenly this amazing speaker appeared on television. Who is this guy? We assumed Obama was someone who *should* have already been well known to us, but of course that wasn't the case. For most of the American people, he truly did come out of nowhere.

I don't remember much more about Obama until a few years later, when the campaign got underway. I'm currently reading Part Two, and there are more familiar memories already.

Redigeret: nov 30, 2020, 2:13pm

First Impressions

I have found myself close to tears on more than one occasion while listening to the audiobook (narrated by Obama), a nostalgic reminder of having someone in office with such thought and decency. He might consider himself too wordy, but I have been finding the book rather enjoyable to listen to, nodding along to his worries, doubts, and fears for our country, smiling at his impressions and arguments with Michelle (who is truly a formidable match for him), feeling hope as he painted his path towards the run for presidency. A solid read so far.

Favorite Passages

I have to agree with >3 karenmarie: that I found some of the passages of his family life most memorable, and heartwarming. I could hear Michelle saying this passage out loud, when she was commenting on Barack's financial plan for yet another campaign, and it made me burst out with laughter:

"If I win, hon," I said, "it will draw national attention. I'll be the only African American in the Senate. With a higher profile, I can write another book, and it'll sell a lot of copies, and that will cover the added expenses."

Michelle let out a sharp laugh. I'd made some money on my first book, but nothing close to what it would take to pay for the expenses I was now talking about incurring. As my wife saw it—as most people would see it, I imagine—an unwritten book was hardly a financial plan.

"In other words," she said, "you've got some magic beans in your pocket. That's what you're telling me. You have some magic beans, and you're going to plant them, and overnight a huge beanstalk is going to grow high into the sky, and you'll climb up the beanstalk, kill the giant who lives in the clouds, and then bring home a goose that lays golden eggs. Is that it?"

"Something like that," I said.

Events I Remember

I'm going to have to show my cards with this response, but I was in high school and then college, and studying abroad in Tasmania during the early-mid 2000's, and had far more "important" things to think about than U.S. politics. The year I graduated high school and started college, I remember the disaster of Hurricane Katrina and the sluggish response by our government. It was one of the earlier disappointments I experienced as I had just become a legal voter a month earlier, when my critical political thinking was just sprouting.

nov 30, 2020, 2:16pm

>3 karenmarie: I was not surprised to read about Michelle’s unhappiness at his time spent in politics...

It's tricky. He's not emotionally open, generally. And he maintains a lot of reserve about his private life. So it's hard to know how to judge his comments about Michelle's views. Is it all as simple as he says, or did they go round and round?

Does Becoming go into this?

Johnny McJohn John

That was funny.

It felt so. darn. good. to be back in Obama-land.

A thousand times this. Even Obama-McCain-Bush-Kerry land. We're just off the rails now.

>4 lauralkeet: It was also interesting to read about things that happened behind-the-scenes, like Harry Reid's role in influencing Obama to run for President.

Yeah. I wouldn't be surprised if this was already known. But it was new to me.

Events I Remember

I remember the Harold Washington campaign, but not very well. I remember his DNC speech. He really did stand out.

Redigeret: nov 30, 2020, 6:05pm

First Impressions Well, I knew this already, but lordy the man can deliver a good line. I don't do many audiobooks, but this was one I particularly wanted to listen to, because it's wonderful, as others have noted, to hear an intelligent discussion on the subject of politics. A man raising himself up not by blowing his own horn, but by speaking candidly yet respectfully about his opponents, and noting the collegiality of his early days in the US Senate.

Favorite Passages Michelle telling their daughters that the only way Daddy could benefit from an alias would be if he had an operation to "pin his ears back". That expression in my family was descriptive of being scorchingly scolded or put in your place in no uncertain terms. It just took me by surprise to hear it used so literally. Hearing Obama relate how he was affected by seeing the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina and by talking to the storm's refugees in Houston was another highlight so far.

Events I Remember John Kerry came to Scranton for a rally during his 2004 campaign, and set up directly across the street from the back door of our office building. Secret Service agents came in to check out our windows, and especially the balcony opening off my boss's office, politely "requesting" that no one go out there during the rally. Several of us had tickets allowing us onto the street for the rally (at which I stood in front of Malachy McCourt and had the benefit of his hilarious commentary throughout). I wasn't particularly interested in politics, but this seemed like a moment in history, local and national, that might be significant someday and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to be present. I can't remember being much aware of Barack Obama yet then.
I also remember is being horrified at the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina---we had lived in New Orleans in the early 70s and hurricanes terrified me ever afterward. Watching everyone's nightmare, a nearly direct hit on the city, play out on TV was surreal.

nov 30, 2020, 10:59pm

The whole Alice Palmer part is a great window into his political education. It was also covered in one of the "The Choice" videos.

The Alan Keyes bit was also gold. I remember hearing a bit from Keyes' debate.

dec 2, 2020, 4:50pm

Politico: "In a new interview, Obama criticized “defund the police” as little more than a “snappy slogan” that polarized many Americans instead of effectively producing broader reforms in the criminal justice system"

This coheres with his attitude as expressed a number of places in Part One, and beyond. If Obama has some radical goals, he's a grounded radical who values getting things done.

dec 2, 2020, 9:54pm

>9 timspalding: He sure is right about that.

Redigeret: dec 3, 2020, 7:38am

>9 timspalding: Good point, Tim. I am impressed with Obama's grasp of a wide range of issues, his ability to see both the forest and the trees, and then forge a path through all of that.