Books

Published on November 20th, 2008 | by Hans Fruck

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The Bodacity of Dope — Barack Obama

I don’t wanna burst anyone’s bubble, but frankly it was an elegantly phrased yawn. In retrospect, hardly surprising. After all, when Obama wrote The Audacity of Hope, he was a freshly minted senator. Clearly, he had aspirations for higher office. Which, of course, is why his books are of such interest, and of so little interest. Filled with so much ambition, invested with so much hope, and weighted down with so much scrutiny, he was never gonna write anything genuinely revelatory in his book.

He was never, for instance, gonna denounce Senator X for being a corrupt arsehole, or divulge how Constituent Y begged him to ride her like a pony, or give his readers a blow-by-blow account of the hot phonesex he and Michelle had while he was marooned in DC. That’s the kinda stuff you save for when you’re washed-up or term-limited out of office. That’s when you can merrily burn bridges and thwack the electorate on the head with a hefty dose of TRUTH. And if Obama did let slip a scandalous anecdote or an iconoclastic observation in his first draft, you can bet that it was quickly edited out by either himself or the battalion of advisors who thumbed through it, red pen in hand.

Instead The Audacity of Hope is full of sonorous platitudes, in which Obama talks about stuff like the breakdown of families, the dysfunction of the US healthcare system, and Iraq. All important topics, don’t get me wrong, but there’s nothing particularly singular in Obama’s proposals on these subjects — which doesn’t make his policies bad, it just means they’re not dazzling or edge-of-the-seat reading.

The Obama who coalesces from the print of his book is very much the Obama we’ve been introduced to over the last couple of years: poised, judicious, even-handed, and cool. In any dispute Obama’s MO — perhaps honed during his years as a law lecturer in Chicago — is to outline an argument, then outline the counterargument, then outline a position that takes elements of both, stitching together some kind of position that, with luck, both sides could support. Sometimes the concessions that Obama makes to the conservative pov aren’t much more than rhetoric, but  it’s his manner, it seems to me, that counts for most here. He cites and recounts conservative arguments in an empathetic manner that probably earns him more brownie points with his political adversaries than his position, on its own, would.

Dimestore psychoanalysers might suggest this manner has been formed by Obama’s biography. That as the product of an interracial marriage, as a child who spent several years living in a foreign country (Indonesia), and as a young African American student in a largely white Ivy League university, it’s no surprise that Obama’s instinct is to unify the disparate, find common ground, get both sides to poke their heads above the trenches. For a young man who straddled so many racial, national, and educational divides, this kind of outlook may have been the only means for him to prosper. Yep, dimestore psychoanalysers might say that, and they might even be right.

But I digress… My point was that Obama’s self-possession, unflappability, and cool are positive attributes in a dude who’s gonna have the launch codes, right? But they’re the antithesis of passion, drama, and high spirits — you know, the things that might make a political book a rollicking good read. Fact is, if he were a tennis player, Obama would be Bjorn Borg. Great, talented, but so rational and controlled he’s kinda boring. The most personally interesting politician would be like John McEnroe — volatile, volcanic, and driven, inspired and undone by passion. Exactly the type you don’t want governing anything more important than his own bathroom.

Though — shit almighty — President McEnroe’s memoir would be a pageturner…


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