Barack Obama Envisions A Promised Land for Us
I got an eBook of President Barack Obama’s new memoir. The first thing I noticed was that Obama dedicated the book to his two daughters and to “Michelle — my love and life’s partner.” Not at all surprised since his Medium profile says, “Dad, Husband, President, Citizen,” in that order.
In the preface of the book, A Promised Land , Obama writes that he believes we can make democracy work because America is made up of “people from every corner of the planet, comprising every race and faith and cultural practice.” He elaborates:
“I’m convinced that the pandemic we’re currently living through is both a manifestation of an interconnected world, one in which peoples and cultures can’t help but collide… In that world — of global supply chains, instantaneous capital transfers, social media, transnational terrorist networks, climate change, mass migration, and ever-increasing complexity — we will learn to live together, cooperate, and recognize the dignity of others, or we will perish.” (Obama, 2020, Preface)
This book is voluminous; the print edition is over 750 pages. Obama’s previous book, The Audacity of Hope, was more personable and concisely presented his political positions. In A Promised Land, Obama writes mundane details of everyday political moments interspersed with family life in the White House.
Instead of reading verbatim, I decided to pick instances where Obama dealt with the Congress and the Republican opposition when trying to pass bills. I also analyze issues that set Obama apart from his successor.
Gridlock in Congress and Intransigence of the Republicans
When Obama’s term began in 2009, Democrats enjoyed a seventy-seven-seat majority in the House. The Senate had 57 Democrats, two independents, and 42 Republicans. The arcane rules required a supermajority of 60 votes to thwart a filibuster. Mitch McConnel, the minority leader, used this provision to slow down the proceedings. Obama laments about the Senate filibuster, which he characterizes as institutionalized procedural mischief ended up being the “most chronic political headache of my presidency.” (Obama, 2020, Chapter 11)
The Obama administration proposed the Recovery Act, commonly referred to as the stimulus bill, with a total outlay of $800 billion to prevent a depression. Obama had to make concessions to legislators by boosting funding for their priorities. The final legislation contained close to 90 percent of what the economic team had proposed. When the bill passed the House 244 to 188, not a single Republican supported it.
Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, and almost all Senate Republicans opposed the stimulus package. Opposition to the Democratic agenda was intense from billionaire ideologues like David and Charles Koch, right-wing think tanks, and conservative news media. Other than the votes of Republican Senators, Collins, Snowe, and Specter, the stimulus bill passed both the House and the Senate strictly along party lines.
After the death of his brother, David, it seems Charles Koch had an epiphany. In a story published on November 13, 2020, Wall Street Journal quotes Charles Koch as saying that his partisanship was a mistake.
Obama is reluctant to take credit for his accomplishments. One rare moment when he took credit was when he talked about his recovery act that made the American financial system bounce back faster than any nation in history with a similar substantial shock.
As I perused the book, the stark contrast in personality and character between the former president and the current one comes into view.
H1N1 Pandemic and Ebola
The first cases of a novel influenza virus (H1N1) appeared in the U. S. in April 2009. In June, the WHO officially declared H1N1 a global pandemic. Obama put the HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, with this charge. “Decisions would be made based on the best available science, and we were going to explain each step of our response to the public — including detailing what we did and didn’t know.” The pandemic abated by mid-2010. The death toll was 12,000, less deadly than many estimated. (Obama, 2020, Chapter 16)
The lessons learned from the H1N1 response strengthened the country’s readiness for any future public health emergency. In 2014, when patients who contracted the Ebola virus arrived in the U.S. from West Africa, they were isolated and treated. Just two people died of the disease. No one who contracted Ebola in the United States died from it.
Compare President Obama’s response to the H1N1 and the Ebola outbreaks with that of the current President towards the coronavirus. According to CNN, under his watch, 11.5 million people have been infected. The death toll due to COVID-19 has just surpassed a quarter million. And there is no end in sight.
The Nobel Peace Prize
Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. When he was woken up and told about the announcement, Obama’s response was, “For what?”
Trump, on the other hand, was obsessed with the Nobel Prize. During a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, a journalist told him that he would deserve a Nobel prize if he can solve the India-Kashmir dispute. His response was, “I think I’m going to get a Nobel Prize for a lot of things if they gave it out fairly, which they don’t.” (Obama 2020, Chapter 18)
Obama Discusses Birtherism
Obama describes Sarah Palin, the vice-presidential candidate in 2008, as a fore-runner to Trump eight years later. “Through Palin, it seemed as if the dark spirits that had long been lurking on the edges of the modern Republican Party — xenophobia, anti-intellectualism, paranoid conspiracy theories, [and] an antipathy toward Black and brown folks — were finding their way to center stage.”
Obama understood how Trump exploited the deep-rooted sentiments among a segment of the white population that harbored the feeling that a Black man in the White House has disrupted the natural order. Trump understood it well when he started peddling assertions that Obama “had not been born in the United States and was thus an illegitimate president.”(Obama, 2020, Chapter 26)
CBS 60 Minutes aired an interview with President Obama on Sunday, November 15, 2020. The full interview can be viewed by clicking here. When asked by the correspondent, Scott Pelly, what advice he has for President Trump, Obama said this, “if you want at this late stage in the game to be remembered as somebody who put the country first, it’s time for you to do the same thing.”
Pelly asked Barack Obama why he titled the memoir “A Promised Land. “ Obama replied, “Well, I titled it because even though we may not get there in our lifetimes, even if we experience hardships and disappointments along the way, that I at least still have faith we can create a more perfect union. Not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.”
One day, we may realize a “more perfect union.”
— — — — — — — — —
 Obama, B. (2020). A Promised Land. New York, NY: Crown, Penguin Random House