Book Review: The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream

Book Reviewed by Kam Williams

’There’s a school of thought that sees the Founding Fathers only as hypocrites and the Constitution only as a betrayal of the grand ideals set forth by the Declaration of Independence; that agrees with early abolitionists that the Great Compromise between North and South was a pact with the Devil’
How can I, an American with the blood of Africa coursing through his veins, choose sides in such a dispute? I can't I love America too much, am too invested in what this country has become, too committed to its institutions, its beauty, and even its ugliness, to focus on the circumstances of its birth.’

’Excerpted from Chapter 3, The Constitution

After Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. delivered the keynote speech at the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, he was heralded as the future of the party, a rising black star who might one day ascend to the presidency. But Ford’s political career appears to have flamed out prematurely with his recent unsuccessful run for the Senate in his home State of Tennessee.

Already poised to assume the mantle of the promising black Messiah is Barack Obama, another up-and-comer who, like Ford and Barabara Jordan before him, was catapulted into the limelight courtesy of a charismatic keynote speech at the convention. And since Obama has hinted that he might throw his hat into the ring in 2008, some might want to get a sense of what makes the Junior Senator from Illinois tick.

You can find his middle-of-the-road philosophy quite eloquently explained in The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, an optimistic assessment of the state of the union. Clintonesque in tone, starting with its title, the book is evocative of the ex-President’s ’I still believe in a little place called Hope’ slogan from both of his successful presidential campaigns.

This tame tome, ostensibly carefully crafted with the intent of being all things to all people, unfortunately ends up reading like little more than the transparent game plan of guileful politician. He’s clearly courting both Republicans and Democrats, here, by praising President Reagan as much as he does FDR.
When discussing racism, he comes off as no liberal, but more in the ’content of your character’ camp as advocated by African-American neo-cons like Shelby Steele and John McWhorter. In this regard, he has no problem putting the onus on blacks to accommodate themselves to the mainstream culture, because ’members of every minority group continue to be measured largely by the degree of our assimilation.’

Obama goes on to conclude that ’the single biggest thing’ we could do to reduce inner-city poverty ’is to encourage teenage girls to finish high school and avoid having children out of wedlock.’ If these sort of simplistic ’blaming the victim’ pronouncements are truly Barack’s best ideas on how to reclaim the American Dream, I suggest he keep dreaming. 

Read Crown’s description of The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream.

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