The Audacity Of Hope
Why you should read this book
The audacity of Hope was written by Barack Obama when he was still a senator. You would learn more about his life and his ideals in this book. Obama hoped for a better America. His love for his country and people is truly admirable. This passion is what made him one of the best leaders in the US. If you’re an aspiring civil servant, you should read this book.
Who should read this
Lawyers; Aspiring Politicians; Government workers; Aspiring leaders
About the author
Barack Obama is the 44th President of the USA. Before he became president, Obama worked as a civil rights lawyer and served as a senator from Illinois. He is from the Democrat party. In 2009, Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize. He founded the Obama Foundation in 2014.
The Audacity of Hope Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream
Did you know that Barack Obama served two terms as Senator before he became the President of the USA? Do you know his stance on controversial topics, such as abortion and border control? Is he a religious man? Is he more conservative or liberal? You will learn the answers to these questions and more from this book. Barack Obama wrote the ‘Audacity of Hope when he was still a Senator from Illinois. In this book, he writes about his family, the diverse groups he advocates for, and his dream for a better America. In this book, you will get to know former President Obama as much more than just the first African-American president of the United States.
Republicans and Democrats
It may not be the most beautiful part of the Capitol, but the Senate Chamber is breathtaking, nonetheless. It has wide walls and tall columns made of marble and a creamy white oval ceiling with the symbolic American Eagle at the center. 100 mahogany desks are lined in a semicircle. Some have been there since 1819. If you open the drawers, you will see the names of the honorable men who once sat there. Visitors can observe the official signatures of famous Americans such as Kennedy, Long, Taft, and others. Sometimes, I imagine the great senators who shaped our country giving their inspiring speeches in this very room. However, my colleagues and I usually spend very little time in the Senate Chamber; this space is only briefly used for senators to cast their votes.
Before we reach the Senate Chamber, we each will have studied the details of a bill to decide whether or not to pass a specific bill. We will have discussed the amendments with the majority leader, the committee chairman, and the other personnel. By the time we enter to cast our vote, each senator has already determined a solid position made with the help of staff, lobbyists, and interest groups. Most of the time, senators work from their own offices where we study the laws, make phone calls, and meet with our constituents. Occasionally, we go to television studios to do live interviews. Our normal working day spans 12 -13 hours. I remember very clearly the day that I was sworn into the 109th Congress. It was a warm sunny day, and my friends and family were there to support me. My two daughters, Malia and Sasha, were twirling in their beautiful dresses down the hall. I walked hand-in-hand with my wife, Michelle.
In the Library of Congress, we spent quality moments with supporters and we shared laughter, hugs, handshakes, and photographs as they offered me encouragement and well-wishes. After the ceremony and festivities, my colleagues and I got to work. We have to face the reality that the Senate is divided: Republicans and Democrats have disagreed on every issue for decades, be it about Iraq, gay marriage, taxes, immigration, trade, abortion, or education. We disagree with the reason for our disagreement. We disagree with the nature of our disagreement. And we disagree about the scope of the disagreement.
For those who are not familiar with politics, Republicans are the conservative and traditional political party in America. Democrats are considered more liberal and modern; they are more likely to support gay rights than Republicans. I am a member of the Democratic party. Take climate change, for example, the Republicans have their view about the facts, causes, and perpetrators of climate change, while the Democrats also have their version, as well. The two parties cannot agree on this issue.
While the two political parties continue to grapple over this ‘gap’, the people of this nation have real needs which should be addressed: millions of Americans are just barely getting by every day. They go to work, pay their bills, take care of their children and make do with their health insurance. They have learned to rely on themselves and to do away with the endless arguments of Republicans and Democrats. I believe that the Senate needs to reflect on how to better serve the American people. It needs to set aside differences in ideology and accept more compromises. Most of all, the Republicans and Democrats must learn to admit that sometimes the other side has a good point. Americans are waiting for a Senate that has more maturity, common sense, and responsibility.
No one knows the Senate more than Senator Robert C. Byrd. I met him when he was 87 years old. He served in the Senate for 47 years and has handled every position there is. He was the majority leader for six years and also a minority leader for another six years. Senator Byrd hails from West Virginia. He was raised by his uncle and aunt in a coal mining town. At an early age, he learned to recite long poems from memory, and he is also talented at playing the fiddle. Since Byrd had no money to go to college, he worked as a salesman, a meat cutter, and a welder to save for his education. He entered politics after the Second World War. In 1952, he became a congressman and he entered the Senate in 1958.
Senator Byrd prioritized the welfare of the working class: he passed laws for union protection and health benefits for miners; he fought for infrastructure and electricity for very poor communities in his area. After 10 years of night courses, Byrd earned his law degree. If there was something that Senator Byrd loved more than his wife, that would be the Constitution and the history of the Senate. He wrote 4 volumes on Senate history and always carries a pocket-sized copy of the US Constitution wherever he goes. When I first started as a Senator, my senior colleagues advised me to meet with Senator Byrd for advice. We met in Senator Byrd’s private office.
After some initial polite conversation and perfunctory photographs, I asked for his advice for me as a new senator.“Learn all the laws.” he told me. “Not just the laws, but the precedents as well.” He showed me his collection of thick binders: each one of them was marked and labeled by him. “Not many people bother to learn them these days. Everything is so rushed, so many demands on a senator’s time.”We talked about the Senate’s history, the presidents he had worked with, and the bills he had passed. Senator Byrd encouraged me but emphasized that I should not rush in my new role. Many senators are eyeing the presidency without realizing that the Senate is the heart and soul of the government.
“Very few people read the Constitution today.” Senator Byrd said as he took out his copy from his breast pocket. “I’ve always said, the Constitution and the Holy Bible are all the guidance I need.”Before we parted, he gave me copies of his 4 volumes of Senate history. I commented that it is good that he finds time to write. “Oh, I have been very fortunate.” Senator Byrd said. “Much to be thankful for. There’s not much I wouldn’t do over. I only have one regret in my youth…”We all have regrets, Senator,” I told him. “We just ask that in the end, God’s grace shines upon us.” He looked me in the eyes and gave the faintest smile. “God’s grace. Yes. Let me sign the books for you.”
To educate myself on the status of the American economy, I visited Galesburg in Western Illinois. The town was known for its steel, rubber, and industrial-parts manufacturing. But now, almost all of the plants have shut down. I went to the Maytag plant, specifically, because the company had plans to move its operations to Mexico and lay off 1,600 of its employees. Maytag has manufactured washing machines since 1893. I met with the union leader Dave Bevard. He told me that they have tried every strategy to change the owner’s mind. The union has talked to the press, contacted the investors, and solicited support from local politicians. But still, the owner of Maytag was unmoved.
“It ain’t like these guys aren’t making a profit,” Dave said. “We’ve taken cuts in pay, cuts in benefits, and layoffs. Still, the CEO wants to send the work to Mexico and pay the workers there six times lower.”I offered Dave solutions that we can work for in the future, like improved retraining programs for employees and the removal of tax breaks for companies who outsource their operations. As I was about to go, a big man with a baseball cap stood up and introduced himself: Tim Wheeler, the union leader of the nearby steel plant. He has received unemployment insurance since the plant closed, but was worried about his healthcare benefits.
“My son Mark needs a liver transplant,” Tim said. “We’re on the waiting list for a donor but my healthcare benefits are used up. We’re asking if Medicaid will cover the costs. Nobody can give me a clear answer. I sold everything I got for Mark; got into debt, but it’s still not enough.”Tears welled up in Tim’s eyes. I told him that I would check with Medicaid for an answer. As I drove back to Chicago, I thought about Tim Wheeler; a man who had no job and no savings to help his sick son. Globalization has brought about advantages for many Americans; flat-screen TVs at a low price and the availability of peaches in winter, among other benefits. The purchasing power of the dollar has increased, while inflation has lessened.
However, globalization has its disadvantages as well. To keep up with competition and attract investors globally, American companies have offshored or automated their operations. They became strict with wage increases, health benefits, and retirement plans. The result is that the economy adapted a “winner-take-all” approach: those on top of the hierarchy make big gains, while those on the lower levels suffer. Corporate leaders speak about growth, productivity, and profits, while ordinary workers receive none of it. Take for example big tech companies like Google: they hire top marketers, consultants, lawyers, and engineers. These experts enjoy the benefits of modern technology. But the skilled workers of Maytag can easily be replaced by machines or workers in other countries.
The question is what the government can do about this. I see three solutions to how Americans can be more competitive in the global market. First is an investment in education. Children, especially in African-American and Latino communities, should be given a better shot in life. The second is an investment in science and technology. There should be more federal support for research, as well as training for scientists and engineers. The third is an energy investment. Those in power must realize that the country’s dependence on current energy sources is taking a toll. There is, instead, a big opportunity with alternative fuels and hybrid cars, as proved by other countries.
I have always wanted to protect Roe v. Wade. It is the law that legalizes abortion in America. While each state has its own specific rules governing the conditions and accessibility of the medical procedure, this landmark decision to allow legal termination of pregnancy remains a controversial issue in the country. Some anti-abortion activists bully and intimidate women when they go to abortion clinics. They scream at the top of their lungs and shove photos of impaired fetuses at the women’s faces. I met some anti-abortion activists at my campaign rallies, women who stood in vigil outside the venue, silently holding their handmade banners.
These activists did not disturb our events, but my staff was still worried. Whenever they see such protesters, they go on full alert and suggest that I enter through the rear. But in such cases, I tell my driver, “I don’t want to go through the back. Tell them we’re coming through the front.”I remember one instance when I saw a group of protesters and approached them. I shook their hands and introduced myself. “You folks want to come inside?” I asked.“No, thank you,” one of them answered. The man gave me a pamphlet. “Mr. Obama, I want you to know that I agree with most of what you have to say.”I appreciate that.”
“And I know you’re a Christian and a family man.” “That’s true.” “So how can you support murdering babies?”I told him that I understood where he was coming from, but that I disagreed. I explained that pregnant women have reasons behind their choice and that abortion is not a causal decision. I suggested possible reasons such as poverty, sickness, disability, or rape. I feared that some women would seek unsafe procedures and unqualified doctors if abortion were to be made illegal. Moreover, I want to make solutions so that pregnant women would not think of undergoing it in the first place.
The man listened to me politely and said, “I will pray for you,” he said. “I will pray that you have a change of heart.” I didn’t have a change of heart, though. Not on that day, nor in the days to come. I did not come from a religious family. When my mother was young, she heard preachers who proclaimed that three-fourths of the world’s population was ignorant and doomed to eternal damnation. They insisted that the earth and the sky were created literally in seven days. Mother also remembered religious women who judged those who didn’t meet their standards of living. Some religious men underpaid and bad-mouthed their immigrant workers. These interactions had a significant effect on my mother and how she raised me regarding religion.
That is not to say that my mother did not teach me anything about faith. She gave me a well-rounded education. The bookshelf in our home was stacked with the Bible, the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, and Norse, Greek, and African mythologies. On Christmas and Easter, my mother would take me to church. Occasionally, she took me to celebrate the Chinese New Year, or visit the Buddhist temple or the Shinto Shrine and the ancient Hawaiian burial sites. While my mother was not religious, she was spiritual. She had a great sense of morality. Her heart was filled with charity, kindness, and love.
Mother taught me about empathy, honesty, discipline, and hard work. She was very concerned about injustice and poverty. Sometimes, she would wake me in the middle of the night to admire the beautiful moon. She would make me close my eyes to listen to the wind and the rustling leaves. She liked to carry children, to tickle and play games with them. My mother saw and enjoyed the wonders of life. One particular evening, I watched my two daughters as they laughed at the dinner table.
Michelle was fussing about their untouched vegetables. Sasha, my youngest, asked me what happens after death. She told me, “I don’t want to die, Daddy.” I embraced her tightly and replied, “You’ve got a long, long way before that, sweetheart.”I am not sure what happens when we die; I also do not know what happened before the Big Bang, but I do know that when I tucked my daughters into bed that night, I felt a piece of heaven.
“There is not a Black America and White America and Latino America and Asian America—there’s the United States of America.” This line was part of my speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Often, people, I meet for the first time quote these words back to me. It echoes what Dr. Martin Luther King said about people not being judged by their skin color, but by their character. Since childhood, I’ve had this notion of a diverse America. My biological father was a black African and my mother was a white American. My half-sister is a mix of black and Indonesian. She could be easily mistaken for a Puerto Rican or Mexican. I have blood relatives who look like Margaret Thatcher and I also have some who look like Will Smith. Our Christmas reunions seemed like a UN General Assembly meeting. And so, I grew up open-minded about ideas of race and tribe.
I believe that the ability of America to absorb newcomers has always been its strength. The country is guided by our Constitution which entitles equal citizenship and opportunities for all. California, Texas, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Columbia are mostly populated by minorities. 12 other states have a 30% population of Blacks, Latinos, and Asians. Experts estimate that by 2050, America will no longer be a country with a white majority. The American society is not fully color blind though; there is still a lot of work to do. Latinos and Blacks are lagging in employment, life expectancy, and home ownership, compared to Whites. Wall Street needs more Latino CEOs or Black COOs. At present, I am the only African American in the Senate. There are only 3 Latinos and 2 Asian legislators.
I have experienced security guards following me at the mall. Once, I was standing outside a restaurant waiting for the valet and a white couple tossed their car keys to me, mistaking me for the parking valet. There were also times when the police pulled me over for no apparent reason. To say that racial discrimination is still the same as in Dr. Martin Luther King’s time is neglect of all his hard work and sacrifice. But, the work is incomplete. The issue of race in America has gotten better, but better is not good enough. We need to complete the work that Dr. King and the others have begun. In the middle of the immigration debate, a group of activists came to my office. They were asking me to sponsor a private relief bill that would give citizenship to 30 Mexicans who were deported. These people had left behind their spouses and children who had legal US residency.
Danny Sepulveda, one of my staff members who is half-Chilean, handled the issue. He explained to the group that I understand their sentiment and that I was one of the sponsors of the immigration bill. But, I cannot select only those 30 people out of the millions who are struggling in the same situation. The activists accused me of not truly caring about the immigrants and their children. They said that I was more concerned with guarding the borders than giving justice. They accused Danny of turning his back on his roots. When I heard about what happened I was frustrated. I wanted to face the group and tell them personally that American citizenship is not a right but a privilege. If there is no respect for borders and the law, then the opportunities and security that citizens enjoy will be in danger. More importantly, I can not tolerate people who abuse my staff, especially someone who wants to help their cause.
It was Danny who talked me out of it; he told me that meeting the group would only be counterproductive. Weeks later, I attended a workshop on naturalization held in Wisconsin. Here I met a Mexican woman whose son was serving in Iraq, a young Colombian man who worked as a valet in a nearby restaurant while studying accounting at the local community college, and a little Latino girl named Cristina who approached me and asked for my autograph. Cristina said she was studying government in school and would like to show my autograph to her class. She was in third grade. I told her parents that they must be proud.
This little girl reminded me that America does not need to fear newcomers. Latinos have come here just like many European families who came to the country 150 years ago. They wanted refuge from the wars and famines in Europe. These immigrants may not have legal documents or special skills to offer, but they carry with them the hope for a better life. America should not fear people who look and speak differently. The country should fear not being able to give these people equal opportunities and rights. The threat to our democracy comes not from immigrants but the increasing inequality and racial strife. I want Cristina and my two daughters to live knowing that America is big enough to accommodate all dreams.
I met my wife Michelle at a law firm where we both worked. She was already a practicing lawyer at the time, while I was only a summer associate. Michelle studied at Harvard Law right after college; I worked for 3 years as a community organizer. I had only three suits to wear and I washed them repeatedly, and only one pair of leather shoes which were half a size too small. On my first day, I was ushered to the office of my summer advisor – Michelle herself. She was friendly but professional as a young attorney. We spent much of our time working together. We got to know each other as we ate together in the cafeteria, visited the law library, and joined the outings that the firm organized. Things were going quite well, but still, Michelle would not agree for us to have a proper date.
She said dating would not be appropriate because she was my advisor. But, I wouldn’t give up. Finally, one afternoon we had ice cream at the Baskin-Robbins near my apartment. We sat at the curb and talked. I told Michelle that I had worked at Baskin-Robbins as a teenager. She told me that when she was a child, she ate nothing but peanut butter and jelly for two years. I asked if I could meet her family – she said okay. I asked if I could kiss her – her lips tasted like ice cream. Michelle was raised in a good home. Her mom and dad were kind, responsible parents. Her brother is a talented basketball player. When Michelle was young, her father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, but still, he pushed himself to make a living for his family. Her mother also did her best to keep their lives normal.
Many critics say that there is a decline in the American family. Some say that this is because of gay pride parades and Hollywood movies. Some say that it is due to low income and unreliable daycare. According to conservatives, the country benefits a lot from the traditional family with the father as the sole breadwinner and the mother as the homemaker. They somehow blame the government for putting forward contraceptives for the youth, legal documents for same-sex couples, and welfare support for single mothers. But my stand is that marriage, sex, child-bearing and divorce are highly personal issues. The government must protect the American family from bigamy, incest, child abuse, domestic violence, and failed child support.
It is not for the Senate or the president of America to pressure or bully citizens into traditional family roles which they think are good for them. Also, we cannot punish people who do not meet our standards of sexuality. I am from a broken family: my parents divorced when I was two years old. I didn’t have a father to look up to when I was growing up, my grandfather was too old and my stepfather was distant. It was my mother and grandmother who showered me with love and support. On Father’s Day, I was invited to speak in Chicago. I used this opportunity to suggest that it is time for men to stop making excuses for not being there for their families. I reminded them that being a father is not just bearing a child.
Some fathers are present physically at home but are absent emotionally. Before we set high expectations for our children, we should set high expectations for ourselves as parents. One day, I had the opportunity to watch Malia’s soccer game. It was a nice afternoon and the bleachers were occupied with families from all backgrounds: Whites, Blacks, Asians, and Latinos cheering for their children. I sat beside Michelle and nestled Sasha on my lap. Malia was playing with competitiveness and enthusiasm. I couldn’t have been more proud. When it was halftime, she came over to us.“How are you feeling, sport?” I asked Malia. “Great! Daddy, can we get a dog?” “How about we talk it over after the game?” I said.“Okay.” Malia drank her water and kissed me on the cheek. “I’m glad you’re home, Daddy,” she said. Before I could reply, she ran back to the field.
This summary has provided some of Barack Obama’s views on politics, law, opportunities, faith, race, and family. Obama served as a US Senator from 2005 – 2008. He became President of the United States from 2009 to 2017. Obama is remembered for his open mind on topics of race and religion. Obama dreams of an America that is truly equal and full of opportunities for its citizens. He concludes ‘The Audacity of Hope’ with the words: “My heart is filled with love for this country.”