Friday, May 30, 2008

Obama - For Real (Part One)

I read Barack Obama's biography, Dreams of My Father, to find out "Is he for real?" First published in 1995, he speaks about his life in three different settings: Origins; Chicago; and Kenya.

Barack's early years taught him patience and tolerance, humility and perseverance, and all the other character traits that serve him well as an adult. He learned those lessons in the most intensive and painful school of all - the School of Personal Experience.

Why didn't he become angry instead of patient and tolerant when he was on the receiving end of racial discrimination? Why didn't he become proud when he earned a scholarship to Harvard? or discouraged when years of effort at community organizing paid such seemingly small dividends in change? Why did he choose forgiveness, generosity of spirit and love, instead of bitterness, when he visited Kenya and learned about his father's life there?

I can only conclude that his mother and his grandparents were exceptional people who practiced the Christian values that most people only preach, and that he chose their highest values for his own. But there is something more. We are not only formed by our childhood role models. We are all individuals who choose, day by day, what to keep, what to discard, what to value and what to despise, as we grow towards maturity. Barack chose well.

I offer these snippets from his book (with page references) as evidence that Barack Obama is not the slick product of focus groups and political mentors, but rather, that what we've heard him say every day during this campaign is what he believes, practices, and has said from his earliest time as an adult, working to create hope and change.

  • "In 1983 I decided to become a community organizer." page 133

about Marty, his employer and mentor in community organizing in Chicago:
  • "Somewhere in his life, I thought, he, too,had been betrayed." page 150
  • "...recognizing in myself the same vision driving Marty, his faith that if you could just clear away the politicians and media and bureaucrats and give everybody a seat at the table, then ordinary people could find common ground." page 152

on the racial divide and dealing with anti-Semitism or Asian-bashing in his community:
  • "I learned, for example, that most of the people in the area had been raised farther north or on Chicago's West Side, in the cramped black enclaves that restrictive covenants had created for most of the city's history." page 155
  • "Just talk. Yet what concerned me wasn't just the damage loose talk caused efforts at coalition building, or the emotional pain it caused others. It was the distance between our talk and our action, the effect it was having on us as individuals and as a people. That gap corrupted both language and thought; it made us forgetful and encouraged fabrication; it eventually eroded our ability to hold either ourselves or each other accountable." page 203
  • "The continuing struggle to align word and action, our heartfelt desires with a workable plan -- didn't self-esteem finally depend on just this? It was that belief which had led me into organizing, and it was that belief which would lead me to conclude, perhaps for the final time, that notions of purity -- of race or of culture -- could no more serve as the basis for the typical black American's self-esteem than it could for mine." page 204

about his reasons for leaving Chicago to go to Harvard law school:
  • "And I had things to learn in law school, things that would help me bring about real change. I would learn about interest rates, corporate mergers, the legislative process; about the way businesses and banks were put together; how real estate ventures succeeded or failed. I would learn power's currency in all its intricacy and detail, knowledge that would have compromised me before coming to Chicago but that I could now bring back to where it was needed, back to Roseland, back Altgeld; bring it back like Promethean fire." page 276
All page numbers for quotes are from the 1995 hardback version.

Tomorrow I'll conclude "Obama - For Real" with quotes from his experiences in Kenya. It's all about family; the immediate family, the extended family, the human family.

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