His inaugural speech was moving in part because, as one commentator said, it referred to values, not just a series of policy promises. It was a mission statement of sorts. Obama’s mindset is not just red, white and blue: it is about the peoples of the world, and how our country affects how the world operates.
He spoke directly to poor nations, telling them we felt a responsibility to help them establish healthy farms and clean, running water—and then he spoke to other wealthy nations and reminded them that we have a duty to help those poorer nations. That was the part of his speech that affected me the most: it made me see that we elected someone who can’t freely enjoy this country’s prosperity knowing that others around the world have nothing to eat, and are drinking from contaminated water, or none at all.
My book club for the first time eschewed our policy to read only fiction, and we are reading Dreams from My Father, President Obama’s first book. I am only 40 percent of the way through it, but I am awed by his writing power, not only in his turns of phrase, but also his sense of history.
In his 1995 introduction, he writes,
“[This book] is autobiographical, although whenever someone’s asked me over the course of these last three years just what the book is about, I’ve usually avoided such a description. An autobiography promises feats worthy of record, conversations with famous people, a central role in important events. There is none of that here.”
Reading that through the film of 14 years of hindsight, it’s poignant. Not only has President Obama had discussions with famous people, he is famous. He will play a central role in important events and perform feats worthy of record. He is one of only 44 people in the history of the world who have led this brash country founded on beautiful, simple democratic values.
His sense of history is strong, as his book explores his own familial story against the backdrop of the larger march of time. His world sense is keen: he spent formative years witnessing devastating poverty in Indonesia, and he has seen racial attitudes from Hawaii to Manhattan, including his own white grandmother being afraid of an aggressive, panhandling black man.
He represents the “patchwork” he referred to in his speech. He is named “Barack” after his African father, but the name itself is Moslem and means “blessed” in Arabic. His family roots are as “apple pie” as small towns in Kansas, and as worldly as Kenya. He has spent many years examining himself, his family’s story and the larger story of the world, and his conclusions are solid, compassionate and so desperately needed at this hour.
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