Friday, August 31, 2012

Audacity of Hope Review and Notes

The Audacity of Hope is an unusual blend of autobiography and policy analysis - Obama interwines the story of his life and the policies he believes.  

Many of these notes pay testament to the fact that Obama is an excellent writer : 


Beautiful sentences. Repeated negatives examples before ending the paragraph with a contrary solution. Pure speech writing honcho.


Republicans and Democrats:

  • A White house that sees a 51-48 victory as a call to humility and compromise rather than a irrefutable mandate
  • Purpose is not to persuade the other side but to keep their bases agitated, and assured of the rightness of their cause – and lure enough new adherents to beat the other side into submission.
  • The point at which the denunciations of capitalism or American imperialism came too easily, and the freedom from the constraints of monogamy or religion was proclaimed without understanding the value of such constraints, and which the role of victim was too readily embraced as a mean of shedding responsibility , or asserting entitlement, or claiming moral superiority over those not so victimized

Values:

  • Values are faithfully applied to the facts before us; while ideology overrides whatever facts calls into question.
  • There is a constant danger, in the cacophony of voices, that a politician may lose his moral bearings and find himself entirely steered by the winds of public opinion.
  • Quality of authenticity, of being who you say you are, of possessing a truthfulness that goes beyond words.
  • Sense of empathy, - not a call to sympathy or charity, but something more demanding, a call to stand in somebody else' shoes and see through their eyes. ( 孔子耳顺)

Our Constitution:

  • The genius of Madison's design is not that it provides with a blueprint for action .. it provides us with a framework and rules... to organize the way with which we argue about our future.
  • All of its elaborate machinery - its separation of power and Bill of rights, - are designed to force us into a conversation , a “ deliberative democracy” in which all citizens are required to engage in a process of testing their ideas against an external reality, persuading others of their point of view, and building shifting alliances of consent. Because the power in our government is so diffuse, the process of making law in America compels us to entertain the possibility that we are not always right and to sometimes change our minds; it challenges us to examine our motives constantly, and suggest that both our individual and collective judgements are at once legitimate and highly fallible.
  • Afterall, there was one impulse shared by all the Founders - a rejection of all forms of absolute authority.
  • It was not only the rejection of absolute power that the Founders sought to prevent. Implicit in its structure, in the very idea of ordered liberty, was a rejection of absolute truth, the infallibility of any idea or ideology... They were suspicion of abstractions and like asking questions , which is why at every turn of our nation's early history, theory yielded to fact and necessity. Jefferson helped consolidated the power of the national government even as he claimed to deplore and reject such power.
  • The Constitution's system of checks and balances may often lead to groups with fixed interests angling and sparing for narrow advantage, but it doesn't have to be. Such diffusion of power can also force groups to take other interests into accounts, and indeed over time, may even alter the groups think and feel about their interest.
  • According to Madison, the process that brought about the Constitution itself, through a convention at which “ no man felt himself obliged to retain his opinions any longer than he was satisfied of their proprietary and truth, and was open to the force of argument.”
  • It has not always been the pragmatist, the voice of reason, or the force of compromise , that has created the conditions for liberty. It was slaves and former slaves who recognized that power would not concede without a fight, that was John Brown who was willing to spill blood and not just words for his vision. In other words, it was the absolutist that fought for a new world order. Knowing this, I cannot summarily dismiss those who possessed of a similar certainty today – the animal rights activist who raids laboratories- no matter how deeply I disagreed with their views. I am robbed even of the certainty of uncertainty – for sometimes, absolute truths may well be absolute.
  • Constitution works not to arrive to at an agreement but forcing checks and debates, arrive at sound and fair agreement.

Politics:

  • Unlike other people who can get to lick their wounds in private, a politician's loss is on public display – this is the kind of feelings that most adult organize their lives about to avoid.
  • In politics, there are second acts but no second place.
  • As a politician, you will spend more and more time with the wealthy donors, outside the world of the 99 % that you entered public life to serve.
  • Organizing people can be as important as organizing cash – and you go where people are already organized – churches, environmental groups etc.
  • Today's politician: He may not lie, but he understands that there is no reward in store for those who tell the truth, especially when the truth is complicated... the media will not have patience to sort out the facts and what matters more is the positioning – the stance that will fit the image of his press folks.
  • The longer one is in politics, the easier it should be to muster courage, for there is a realization of no matter what you do, there will be someone angry with you.... The longer I'm in politics, the less nourishing popularity becomes, and I am mainly answerable to the steady gaze of my conscience

Opportunities:

  • Hamilton and Lincoln understood that resources and power of the national government can facilitate, rather than supplant, a vibrant free market.
  • Lincoln's simple maxim: We do collectively, through our government, only those things that we cannot do as well or at all individually and privately.
    • In other words, be guided by what works.
  • Statistics show that wages of American jobs being lost are higher than wages of American jobs being created.
    • A better education alone may not necessarily protect the workers from growing competition.
    • But one thing is certain – any efforts at protectionism will be counter productive – and it will make their children worse off in the bargain.
  • FDR led the nation in a new social compact: For average American workers, security rested on 3 pillars: Ability to find a job that paid enough, a package of health and retirement benefits, and a government safety net – Social security, unemployment insurance that could cushion the fall of those who suffered setbacks.
    • FDR recognized that we would all be more likely to take risks like changing jobs or start new business – or welcome competition from other countries if we had some measure of protection should we fail.

Reading this chapter really do make me realize that Singapore is a well governed place:
  • We have a common pool of money that gives us some guaranteed income in our golden years – CPF, for those who fail.
  • A portable healthcare system.

Faith:

  • Busy and successful americans are realizing that something is missing – they need an assurance that somebody out there cares about them and it is not a highway to nothingness.
  • Obama's mom: Religion was an expression of human culture, not its wellspring, just one of the many ways – and it is not necessarily the best way – that man attempted to control the unknowable and understand the deeper truths about our lives.
  • The discomfort of progressives with any hint of religiosity has often limited us from effectively addressing issues in moral terms.
    • Lincoln and King summoning of a higher truth helped inspired what seemed impossible and moved the nation to embrace a common destiny.
  • Constitution: It wasn't the Founders who were students of the Enlightenment who were the most effective champions of a separation between church and state. It was Baptists like Reverend John Leland who provided the popular support to get these provisions ratified as the first Amendment They did so because they were outsiders who evangelized of all comers – including slaves, threatened the dominant Anglican Church in the South and Congregationalist Orders of the North.
    • They feared that any state-sponsored religion encroach on them as religion minorities.
  • What deliberative, pluralistic democracy demand is that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific values.
    • If I am against abortion, I cannot just point to the bible but explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.
  • Story of Abraham offering his son Isaac as sacrificial to God – Child abuse in today's term. We then must act in accordance with those things that are possible for all of us to know, understanding that a part of what we know to be true – as individuals or communities of faith – will be true for us alone.

Race:

  • It seems that African Americans, as individuals must prove ourselves anew each day, that we rarely get the benefit of the doubt and will have little margin for error because we have stereotypes of being lazy and stupid.
    • Most of all, it requires fighting off the temptation to keep making the effort.
    • The alternative is to surrender – to what has been instead of what might be.
  • The larger society draws from our colour – makes all of us only as free, only as respected s the least of us.
  • Culture matters but culture is shaped by circumstances.
  • Workfare in Singapore:
    • By detaching income from work, and by making no demands on welfare recipients sapped people of their initiative and eroded their self respect.

The world beyond our Borders:

  • After Pearl Harbour, FDR said, “ We cannot measure the safety in terms of miles on any map anymore.”
  • By building alliances entered into freely and willingly, it would be be more lasting and cause less resentment – than any collection of vassal states that American imperialism might secure.
    • It is the same on a personal and international stage – Creating buy in is slow but it builds commitment.
  • Why invade Iraq and not North Korea? Why intervene in Bosnia but not Daffier
    • Without a well-articulated strategy that the public supports and the world understands, America will lack the legitimacy – and ultimately the power – it needs.
      • Again, it is the same in an organization: Well articulated and clear strategy.
  • When the world's sole superpower willingly restrains its powers and abides by internationally agreed upon standards of conduct, it sends a message these are rules worth following, and rob terrorists of the arguments that these rules are simply tools of American imperialism.

Family:

  • Abandonment of my youthful ideals, a concession to the hard realities of money and power – the world as it is rather than the world as it should be.
  • Sex is purely recreational, marriage is disposable, and motherhood is an inconvenience.
  • In some larger sense, I am in politics for Malia and Sasha, that the work I do will make the world a better place for them. But such rationalization seem painfully abstract when I am missing of the girls' potluck.
  • I'm encroaching on her space, - that by my absences I may have forfeited certain rights to interfere in the world she has built.
  • On Malia's birthday party: I suspect that the happiness she felt registers permanently in her; that such emotions accumulate and embed themselves in a child's character, becoming a part of their soul.

Epilogue:

  • Audacity to believe despite all the evidence to the contrary that we could restore a sense of community to a nation torn by conflict, we had some control – therefore some responsibility over our fate – audacity of hope.
  • Obama's old friend: I have discovered that you have do what is satisfying to you.


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