Wednesday, January 27, 2021

A Promised Land

How does one get to be president of the United States, a position considered to be more powerful than just about anything else?  As in all cases Obama's road required many lucky breaks and the ability to take advantage of them.

He admits a strong desire for power, power to do things he feels need to be done.  He wrestles with the notion that it might be ego or unmet psychological needs.  Although Michelle supported him, she really fought against his political ambitions.  He was conscious that his decisions imposed sacrifices on others. 

As is evident in this book, he has a way with words.  Often his speeches seek to understand the root source of any issue.  He realizes that most important issues are complicated.  Almost everyone feels free to criticize presidential decisions complaining that the obvious choice was ignored.  Obama is well aware of all the choices, but also knows the practical restrictions.

How does one get power?  He was a man of learning and discipline.  He more often said the right thing at the right time.  The times were changing and events ever bending.  His first election was an education.  He had been told the first thing to do was get the necessary petition prepared.  He was skeptical, but it turned out to be the key.  Several of his opponents messed up their petitions including one who backtracked her promise not to run against him.  Once elected as an Illinois state senator he found himself on the minority side and unable to initiate legislation.

Most voters are something like Monday morning quarterbacks and we imagine that those in power have not really understood our great idea.  Not true in the case of Obama.   The decision making process is gone over for many issues.  The constraining factors include Congressional control by Republicans, filibuster rule, Democrats with different agendas, corporate support for business interests, media striving  for ratings and spreading misleading information.

He had made health care a high priority and was fortunate to make his first moves early.  He lost his margin in the Senate.  Palin had accused the plan of having a death panel, so instead of including a humane service it was cut.  The mandate was attacked and also cut.  Here in Ontario several years ago it was mandated that everyone had to have insurance to drive a car and that made sense.  Although some people offer less risk they still have a risk. 

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill caught everyone off guard.  After assessing several options his decisions first drew attacks until it was finally brought under control and he was praised for his action.

He wanted immigration reform, but found his hands tied.  Racism and fear of cheap competition assured that members of both parties would vote against serious reform.  Obama was aware that many immigrants had come without intent or even awareness and had contributed to America's success.  Dreamers were given some protection, but are still under assault.

Iraq and Afghanistan were inherited, even though he voted against the Iraq invasion.  He describes Afghanistan as full of corruption, but felt no real viable options.  Lots of criticisms from politicians and military leaders. 

Israel is an American ally with solid electoral support that is obviously occupying Palestinian land.  Evangelicals with their apocalyptic vision are majorly responsible.   Like others Obama sees the need for compromise, but made little if any progress.

The Arab Spring got hopes up and a lot of discussion.  A lot of political maneuvering that led to a new autocratic rule in Egypt, a civil war in Syria, rise of ISIS and perhaps a fragile democracy in Tunisia.

Donald Trump  should have been a footnote, but he inserted himself.  He brought up the issue of Obama's birth certificate, ignoring known facts.  Despite knowing better, the media kept the idea alive fanning racism and forcing Obama's effort to deal with it instead of working for the benefit of Americans.  At the White House Correspondent's dinner, Obama made some biting remarks about Trump while he was there.  Some have speculated that the humiliation inflicted on Trump is what spurred him to not only use his resources to run for president, but also to undo any legislation credited to Obama.

The book ends with the events leading up to and including the assassination of Osama bin Laden.  Secrecy was the key element and Obama admits they did not have certainty, but he was the one who made the final decision.  His luck was better than Jimmy Carter's.

The Benghazi incident was given some background, but the outcome will have to wait for the sequel. Very much looking forward to the sequel and for that matter anything else Obama cares to write.  We can be assured it will be well thought out.

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