So Barack Obama is now officially the Democrats’ Presidential candidate, along with his vice-presidential running mate Joe Biden. The constant claptrap about ‘family’ and the American Dream is getting to me already, but maybe my cynical attitude is because I’m not an American. We do politics differently in these islands - although I can’t see any British Labour politician managing defeat as graciously, almost enthusiastically, as the Clintons. And the Brits have a reputation for hypocrisy?
The rudiments of a policy agenda persist in shining through: universal health care, ‘responsible’ withdrawal from Iraq, improving education opportunities. But the overwhelming message so far is the same irritating mixture of inspiration and vacuity as found in The Audacity of Hope, which I didn’t find as impressive as Dreams from My Father.
The best chapters in Audacity are, in the main, about politics – for example ‘Opportunity’ discusses revitalising public services. Elsewhere in the book, though, we learn that he supports the death penalty in extreme circumstances (‘mass murder, the rape and murder of a child’), and that he’s deeply ambivalent about institutionalising gay partnerships. He’s better on the complexities of the abortion issue, and also on his difficult and (then) unpopular decision on Iraq. But although I moan about the emphasis on family in the campaign, the best chapter in this book is the final one, on, yes, ‘Family’, which brilliantly merges the personal and the political.
It’s worth supplementing your Obama reading with David Mendell’s book, 'Obama: From Promise to Power', which provides a fascinating account of Obama’s political career, with his 2004 Convention speech identified as the pivotal moment. It clarifies Obama’s ambition and calculation over the years, quite rightly in my view, as you don’t get to be a Presidential candidate by accident. The fatigue, the domestic problems, the importance of money and good staff, and the need to remember constantly that anything you or your family say or do will be scrutinised by the media, is all there too.
The next ten weeks will be hard work for many people. Sign up with the campaign to keep in touch.