Discussion in 'Politics & Religion' started by wilburbear, Oct 18, 2009.
From Books, New President Found Voice
By MICHIKO KAKUTANI
WASHINGTON â In college, as he was getting involved in protests against the apartheid government in South Africa, Barack Obama noticed, he has written, âthat people had begun to listen to my opinions.â Words, the young Mr. Obama realized, had the power âto transformâ: âwith the right words everything could change -â South Africa, the lives of ghetto kids just a few miles away, my own tenuous place in the world.â
Much has been made of Mr. Obamaâs eloquence â his ability to use words in his speeches to persuade and uplift and inspire. But his appreciation of the magic of language and his ardent love of reading have not only endowed him with a rare ability to communicate his ideas to millions of Americans while contextualizing complex ideas about race and religion, they have also shaped his sense of who he is and his apprehension of the world.
Mr. Obamaâs first book, âDreams From My Fatherâ (which surely stands as the most evocative, lyrical and candid autobiography written by a future president), suggests that throughout his life he has turned to books as a way of acquiring insights and information from others â as a means of breaking out of the bubble of self-hood and, more recently, the bubble of power and fame. He recalls that he read James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright and W. E. B. Du Bois when he was an adolescent in an effort to come to terms with his racial identity and that later, during an ascetic phase in college, he immersed himself in the works of thinkers like Nietzsche and St. Augustine in a spiritual-intellectual search to figure out what he truly believed.
As a boy growing up in Indonesia, Mr. Obama learned about the American civil rights movement through books his mother gave him. Later, after a stint as a fledgling community organizer in Chicago, he found inspiration in âParting the Waters,â the first installment of Taylor Branchâs multivolume biography of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
More recently, books have supplied Mr. Obama with some concrete ideas about governance: itâs been widely reported that âTeam of Rivals,â Doris Kearns Goodwinâs book about Abraham Lincolnâs decision to include former opponents in his cabinet, informed Mr. Obamaâs decision to name his chief Democratic rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton, as Secretary of State. In other cases, books about F. D. R.âs first hundred days in office and Steve Collâs âGhost Wars,â about Afghanistan and the C.I.A., have provided useful background material on some of the myriad challenges Mr. Obama will face upon taking office.
Mr. Obama tends to take a magpie approach to reading â ruminating upon writersâ ideas and picking and choosing those that flesh out his vision of the world or open promising new avenues of inquiry.
His predecessor, George W. Bush, in contrast, tended to race through books in competitions with Karl Rove (who recently boasted that he beat the president by reading 110 books to Mr. Bushâs 95 in 2006), or passionately embrace an authorâs thesis as an idÃ©e fixe. Mr. Bush and many of his aides favored prescriptive books â Natan Sharanskyâs âCase for Democracy,â which pressed the case for promoting democracy around the world, say, or Eliot A. Cohenâs âSupreme Command,â which argued that political strategy should drive military strategy. Mr. Obama, on the other hand, has tended to look to non-ideological histories and philosophical works that address complex problems without any easy solutions, like Reinhold Niebuhrâs writings, which emphasize the ambivalent nature of human beings and the dangers of willful innocence and infallibility.
Whatâs more, Mr. Obamaâs love of fiction and poetry â Shakespeareâs plays, Herman Melvilleâs âMoby-Dickâ and Marilynne Robinsonâs âGileadâ are mentioned on his Facebook page, along with the Bible, Lincolnâs collected writings and Emersonâs âSelf Relianceâ â has not only given him a heightened awareness of language. It has also imbued him with a tragic sense of history and a sense of the ambiguities of the human condition quite unlike the Manichean view of the world so often invoked by Mr. Bush.
Mr. Obama has said that he wrote âvery bad poetryâ in college and his biographer David Mendell suggests that he once âharbored some thoughts of writing fiction as an avocation.â For that matter, âDreams From My Fatherâ evinces an instinctive storytelling talent (which would later serve the author well on the campaign trail) and that odd combination of empathy and detachment gifted novelists possess. In that memoir, Mr. Obama seamlessly managed to convey points of view different from his own (a harbinger, perhaps, of his promises to bridge partisan divides and his ability to channel votersâ hopes and dreams) while conjuring the many places he lived during his peripatetic childhood. He is at once the solitary outsider who learns to stop pressing his nose to the glass and the coolly omniscient observer providing us with a choral view of his past.
As Baldwin once observed, language is both âa political instrument, means, and proof of power,â and âthe most vivid and crucial key to identity: it reveals the private identity, and connects one with, or divorces one from, the larger, public, or communal identity.â
For Mr. Obama, whose improbable life story many voters regard as the embodiment of the American Dream, identity and the relationship between the personal and the public remain crucial issues. Indeed, âDreams From My Father,â written before he entered politics, was both a searching bildungsroman and an autobiographical quest to understand his roots â a quest in which he cast himself as both a Telemachus in search of his father and an Odysseus in search of a home.
Like âDreams From My Father,â many of the novels Mr. Obama reportedly admires deal with the question of identity: Toni Morrisonâs âSong of Solomonâ concerns a manâs efforts to discover his origins and come to terms with his roots; Doris Lessingâs âGolden Notebookâ recounts a womanâs struggles to articulate her own sense of self; and Ellisonâs âInvisible Manâ grapples with the difficulty of self-definition in a race-conscious America and the possibility of transcendence. The poems of Elizabeth Alexander, whom Mr. Obama chose as his inaugural poet, probe the intersection between the private and the political, time present and time past, while the verse of Derek Walcott (a copy of whose collected poems was recently glimpsed in Mr. Obamaâs hands) explores what it means to be a âdivided child,â caught on the margins of different cultures, dislocated and rootless perhaps, but free to invent a new self.
This notion of self-creation is a deeply American one â a founding principle of this country, and a trope addressed by such classic works as âThe Great Gatsbyâ â and it seems to exert a strong hold on Mr. Obamaâs imagination.
In a 2005 essay in Time magazine, he wrote of the humble beginnings that he and Lincoln shared, adding that the 16th president reminded him of âa larger, fundamental element of American life â the enduring belief that we can constantly remake ourselves to fit our larger dreams.â
Though some critics have taken Mr. Obama to task for self-consciously italicizing parallels between himself and Lincoln, there are in fact a host of uncanny correspondences between these two former Illinois state legislators who had short stints in Congress under their belts before coming to national prominence with speeches showcasing their eloquence: two cool, self-contained men, who managed to stay calm and graceful under pressure; two stoics embracing the virtues of moderation and balance; two relatively new politicians who were initially criticized for their lack of experience and for questioning an invasion of a country that, in Lincolnâs words, was âin no way molesting, or menacing the U.S.â
As Fred Kaplanâs illuminating new biography (âLincoln: The Biography of a Writerâ) makes clear, Lincoln, like Mr. Obama, was a lifelong lover of books, indelibly shaped by his reading â most notably, in his case, the Bible and Shakespeare â which honed his poetic sense of language and his philosophical view of the world. Both men employ a densely allusive prose, richly embedded with the fruit of their reading, and both use language as a tool by which to explore and define themselves. Eventually in Lincolnâs case, Mr. Kaplan notes, âthe tool, the toolmaker, and the tool user became inseparably one. He became what his language made him.â
The incandescent power of Lincolnâs language, its resonance and rhythmic cadences, as well as his ability to shift gears between the magisterial and the down-to-earth, has been a model for Mr. Obama â who has said he frequently rereads Lincoln for inspiration â and so, too, have been the uses to which Lincoln put his superior language skills: to goad Americans to complete the unfinished work of the founders, and to galvanize a nation reeling from hard times with a new vision of reconciliation and hope.
A FEW years ago, I accepted a Golden Globe award by barking out an expletive.
One imagines President Obama did the same when he heard about his Nobel, and not out of excitement.
When Mr. Obama takes the stage at Oslo City Hall this December, he wonât be the first sitting president to receive the peace prize, but he might be the most controversial. Thereâs a sense in some quarters of these not-so-United States that Norway, Europe and the World havenât a clue about the real President Obama; instead, they fixate on a fantasy version of the president, a projection of what they hope and wish he is, and what they wish America to be.
Well, I happen to be European, and I can project with the best of them. So hereâs why I think the virtual Obama is the real Obama, and why I think the man might deserve the hype. It starts with a quotation from a speech he gave at the United Nations last month:
âWe will support the Millennium Development Goals, and approach next yearâs summit with a global plan to make them a reality. And we will set our sights on the eradication of extreme poverty in our time.â
Theyâre not my words, theyâre your presidentâs. If theyâre not familiar, itâs because they didnât make many headlines. But for me, these 36 words are why I believe Mr. Obama could well be a force for peace and prosperity â if the words signal action.
The millennium goals, for those of you who donât know, are a persistent nag of a noble, global compact. Theyâre a set of commitments we all made nine years ago whose goal is to halve extreme poverty by 2015. Barack Obama wasnât there in 2000, but heâs there now. Indeed heâs gone further â all the way, in fact. Halve it, he says, then end it.
Many have spoken about the need for a rebranding of America. Rebrand, restart, reboot. In my view these 36 words, alongside the administrationâs approach to fighting nuclear proliferation and climate change, improving relations in the Middle East and, by the way, creating jobs and providing health care at home, are rebranding in action.
These new steps â and those 36 words â remind the world that America is not just a country but an idea, a great idea about opportunity for all and responsibility to your fellow man.
All right ... I donât speak for the rest of the world. Sometimes I think I do â but as my bandmates will quickly (and loudly) point out, I donât even speak for one small group of four musicians. But I will venture to say that in the farthest corners of the globe, the presidentâs words are more than a pop song people want to hear on the radio. They are lifelines.
In dangerous, clangorous times, the idea of America rings like a bell (see King, M. L., Jr., and Dylan, Bob). It hits a high note and sustains it without wearing on your nerves. (If only we all could.) This was the melody line of the Marshall Plan and itâs resonating again. Why? Because the world sees that America might just hold the keys to solving the three greatest threats we face on this planet: extreme poverty, extreme ideology and extreme climate change. The world senses that America, with renewed global support, might be better placed to defeat this axis of extremism with a new model of foreign policy.
It is a strangely unsettling feeling to realize that the largest Navy, the fastest Air Force, the fittest strike force, cannot fully protect us from the ghost that is terrorism .... Asymmetry is the key word from Kabul to Gaza .... Might is not right.
I think back to a phone call I got a couple of years ago from Gen. James Jones. At the time, he was retiring from the top job at NATO; the idea of a President Obama was a wild flight of the imagination.
General Jones was curious about the work many of us were doing in economic development, and how smarter aid â embodied in initiatives like President George W. Bushâs Emergency Program for AIDS Relief and the Millennium Challenge Corporation â was beginning to save lives and change the game for many countries. Remember, this was a moment when America couldnât get its cigarette lighted in polite European nations like Norway; but even then, in the developing world, the United States was still seen as a positive, even transformative, presence.
The general and I also found ourselves talking about what can happen when the three extremes â poverty, ideology and climate â come together. We found ourselves discussing the stretch of land that runs across the continent of Africa, just along the creeping sands of the Sahara â an area that includes Sudan and northern Nigeria. He also agreed that many people didnât see that the Horn of Africa â the troubled region that encompasses Somalia and Ethiopia â is a classic case of the three extremes becoming an unholy trinity (Iâm paraphrasing) and threatening peace and stability around the world.
The military man also offered me an equation. Stability = security + development.
In an asymmetrical war, he said, the emphasis had to be on making American foreign policy conform to that formula.
Enter Barack Obama.
If that last line still seems like a joke to you ... it may not for long.
Mr. Obama has put together a team of people who believe in this equation. That includes the general himself, now at the National Security Council; the vice president, a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; the Republican defense secretary; and a secretary of state, someone with a long record of championing the cause of women and girls living in poverty, who is now determined to revolutionize health and agriculture for the worldâs poor. And it looks like the bipartisan coalition in Congress that accomplished so much in global development over the past eight years is still holding amid rancor on pretty much everything else. From a development perspective, you couldnât dream up a better dream team to pursue peace in this way, to rebrand America.
The president said that he considered the peace prize a call to action. And in the fight against extreme poverty, itâs action, not intentions, that counts. That stirring sentence he uttered last month will ring hollow unless he returns to next yearâs United Nations summit meeting with a meaningful, inclusive plan, one that gets results for the billion or more people living on less than $1 a day. Difficult. Very difficult. But doable.
The Nobel Peace Prize is the rest of the world saying, âDonât blow it.â
But thatâs not just directed at Mr. Obama. Itâs directed at all of us. What the president promised was a âglobal plan,â not an American plan. The same is true on all the other issues that the Nobel committee cited, from nuclear disarmament to climate change â none of these things will yield to unilateral approaches. Theyâll take international cooperation and American leadership.
The president has set himself, and the rest of us, no small task.
Thatâs why America shouldnât turn up its national nose at popularity contests. In the same week that Mr. Obama won the Nobel, the United States was ranked as the most admired country in the world, leapfrogging from seventh to the top of the Nation Brands Index survey â the biggest jump any country has ever made. Like the Nobel, this can be written off as meaningless ... a measure of Mr. Obamaâs celebrity (and we know what people think of celebrities).
But an America thatâs tired of being the worldâs policeman, and is too pinched to be the worldâs philanthropist, could still be the worldâs partner. And you canât do that without being, well, loved. Here come the letters to the editor, but let me just say it: Americans are like singers â we just a little bit, kind of like to be loved. The British want to be admired; the Russians, feared; the French, envied. (The Irish, we just want to be listened to.) But the idea of America, from the very start, was supposed to be contagious enough to sweep up and enthrall the world.
And it is. The world wants to believe in America again because the world needs to believe in America again. We need your ideas â your idea â at a time when the rest of the world is running out of them.
What kitchen? Fox News is not a news channel except incidentally; it is first and foremost a right-wing propaganda arm. Obama is saying he is no longer willing to help perpetuate the fraud that Fox is "fair and balanced" when they have shown themselves countless times to be the least likely of the cable nets to be fair and balanced about anything.
It is now up to Rupert the ghoul and Roger the skunk to prove that they are worthy of being treated like a legitimate news company, because their credibility so far is about that of Weekly World News, that defunct tabloid that had Batboy on their cover every other month.
Obama and the douche bag libertards can't stand the fact that Fox News beats everyone else in the ratings for cable news. lol And why does Fox kick everyone's ass? Because 1 out of every 4 Democrats also watch it, as well as the majority of Independents. Obama's white house knows this, and are scared shitless that their dirty laundry will turn many Democratic voters against him. LOL!!!!! As far as Independents go, Obama lost the majority of their support a long time ago. LOL!!!!!!!! FOX NEWS RULES!!!!!!! They are the only fair network out there that provides us the information on Obama's radical, communist czars. Also, it was Fox news that was responsible for the demise of Obama's buddies at ACORN. Fox exposed them as the true ghetto, criminal organization they truly are. Now that they've been caught, who will register Fred Flintstone, Barney Rubble, and Woody Woodpecker to vote for Obama in 2012??? LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!
ACORN hasn't been charged with anything. I wonder why.
these people speak like children. And not the smart children you wish for.
Not yet, but their under FBI investigation in "several" states, and have had all their federal funding taken away. Gee, sounds like a bunch of innocent lambs that have mysteriously had hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding taken away from them by a "Democratic' led Congress. LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And Odumba get's to play the typical stupid nigga card when confronted and asked about the various criminal activity of his pal's at Acorn. LOL!!!!!!!!! All I can say is thank the good lord for Fox News. Odumba and his nazi's are seething mad because Fox is exposing them, and there's not a damn thing they can do about it!!! He He!!!!!!!! And Fox's ratings just go higher and higher! lol Why is that? Because viewers know they'll get the truth about this radical shithead Obama, and not suck his dick like all the other networks. He can't control Fox news and it's killing him inside!!!! lol I'm loving every minute of it too. lol
The post above, "From Books, New President Found Voice", shows Obama strolling along book in hand.
Which book is it?
A ZOOM shows it's "A POST AMERICAN WORLD" by Zakaria!
What in the world is the President of the United States doing with such a book, unless he intends to DIMINISH the U.S.?
Separate names with a comma.