a curious Yankee in Europe's court

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The audacious optimism of Barack Obama

Posted on the October 31st, 2008

There’s a telling anecdote early in “The Audacity of Hope” by Barack Obama. Obama has just described what he calls the drubbing he took when he lost badly in the 2000 election after challenging the Democratic incumbent for his congressional seat:

A year and a half later, the scars of that loss sufficiently healed, I had lunch with a media consultant who had been encouraging me for some time to run for statewide office. As it happened, the lunch was scheduled for late September 2001.

“You realize, don’t you, that the political dynamics have changed,” he said as he picked at his salad.

“What do you mean?” I asked, knowing full well what he meant. We both looked at the newspaper beside him. There on the front page, was Osama bin Laden.

“Hell of a thing, isn’t it?” he said, shaking his head. “Really bad luck. You can’t change your name, of course. Voters are suspicious of that kind of thing. Maybe if you were at the start of your career, you know, you could use a nickname or something. But now…” His voice trailed off and he shrugged apologetically before signalling the waiter to bring us the check.

I’m about two-thirds of the way through reading Obama’s 2006 book. Essentially a political document, as a New York Times review describes it, the book primarily lays out Obama’s political ideas. He recounts some of his experiences in elective political office, and reflects on what he has learned from them. Whether you are a supporter of Obama or not, the book is helpful as a compact refresher course in some basic history about American government and how it came to be.

The book is also a primer on the realities of how the political system functions today. As most of the world now knows, Obama subscribes more to the glass half-full philosophy than the glass half-empty. I find it one of the most admirable things about him. I admit, though, that while reading his detailing at times of the hard, complex dynamics of how the government actually functions, I myself have to resist mightily seeing the glass as dry as a bone.

It may be for this reason that the anecdote above that he related is staying in the forefront of my mind as I continue my reading of his book. I ask myself what I or someone else might have done if, in similar circumstances, life had dished up the same ridiculous name blame game. Talk about a clear cut challenge of how to view that proverbial glass!

You’ll have to read the book yourself to find out how Obama confronted the situation. On the other hand, it’s now kind of obvious, isn’t it.

You can read an excerpt of the book here.

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