The book starts with an account of his experiences during the campaign as a senator. What stands out the most about his style is the way in which he can turn any narrative around while putting a positive spin by answering a “Why” question with an inspirational “What”. One example is when a constituent asked “Why such a nice guy like him wanted to get into the dirty business of politics” He does not confirm nor denies the nature of politics and instead answers the question by professing the ideals that he believes in and the change that he hopes to inspire while in office. This is such a simple but powerful demonstration of his charisma and his ability to think quickly on his feet several layers deep about the question in a matter of seconds. I think that this ability and his empathy may be a big part of why he is able to sincerely express his thoughts. Where others would stumble when faced with having to answer a question with negative connotations and may lie or omit the answer, Obama can quickly grasp a 360 view of the audience, the question itself, the values at stake and express openly how he feels about it and his beliefs without missing a beat.
His self reflective nature, self aware and sincere warmth tells a story of struggle and perseverance, compromise and great love towards his career and his family. He is a very passionate person, an idealist willing to march into the burning building to protect what he believes in.
This is also the story of what it takes to become president, the humility, patience and sacrifices endured by him and his family. The adaptability, compassion and genuine care for others. Obama repeatedly defines himself in terms of values focusing very often on the values that we all share. He seems to strive to always find the common ground in order to start building from a place of partnership instead of highlighting the differences. He is very skilled at creating an immediate connection without opening himself up completely.
This book also offers a comprehensive academic analysis of American politics and narratives. He describes from a high level how economic progression has exercised influence in American politics. He also offers a personal account of life in the 60s and the experience of a society divided racial segregation. Where politics circled around narratives of good and evil instead of policies to help the working class. This situation he says, served as the perfect platform to dilute the living standards of the working class during the 60-90’s. Where discussions about the wellbeing of the American working class was being constantly diluted into scapegoating conversations about race and the evilness of certain political groups based on their views.
Furthermore, he elaborates on the inner-workings of politics and how deals are struck over beers, poker games, steak dinners and cigar talks. He is not shy on constructively criticizing the Democratic Party for its own divisiveness in their core beliefs and how this affects their strength facing the Republican party. He claims that the Democratic Party has become the “reactionary party” due to the accusations of the Republicans party who has been able to win elections by villainizing the opposing candidate. In this case, he explains that the energy used on defending is wasted instead of used to create new ideas and solutions.
His idealism serves as a wake up call to colleagues from both parties who may be feeling fed up with the status quo and are ready to take subversive action within the layers of the broken American democratic process. While he praises his colleagues for their values, sharp wits and one on one conversations. He blames the process as the culprit to make good people look bad, complicated, non compromising and dishonest. He blames the fund raising process of veteran senators as one of the basis for rationalization of selling out to corporate donors and interests. Politicians are held captive by special interests from big contributors because they are worried about keeping a seat in the long term and fundraising through constituents takes a a lot of their time. Obama sees this issue as a threat to our democracy.
He humbly explained that a lot of disagreements around policy making come from the confusion between values and ideology. His differentiation between values and ideology serves as a mighty weapon to prompt reconsideration of an oppositional view. As he explained: “Values are applied before facts around us, ideology overrides whatever fact puts a theory into question”.
Obama openly attributes part of his confidence in stage to the painful shotgun rejection experienced during cold calling to raise money during his senatorial campaign.
Overall a very good read! I highly recommend it especially as an oratory study piece.
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