Ever since Barrack Obama became the Dean of Declamation, I marveled at his delivery--of words, that is. During the campaign I found First Lady Michelle to carry the message for them both. (In imaginary letters to him, I admonished him to listen to his wife.) She could talk about her life, his life, their dreams for the country, and I was right in there cheering them on.
Now, after four months of listening to presidential speeches, my mind wonders after opening paragraphs. It returns to Dreams of my Father which is a story told by a man who wondered if he could sell his book. In 1995 at its publication, like most others, I missed it. When it was republished after the Democratic National Convention of 2004, I marveled at how intuitive he was at story telling. Now it comes in audio, read by the author and takes 7 hours. I invest any free time I have on C-Span where it's not hard to hear him holding forth. His book, however, let me know the learning trail he cut out for himself.
Of course what the president says these days must be discrete to live up to his claim that diplomacy can curb horrors of war. However, would it be too much to ask that he sit at that desk he orbits away from, look us in the eye, and lay out some guiding principles? What are the issues the US faces in a global crisis of bad economies and suspicious militaries? It's just that simple. How is it possible to avoid still more war when we are stretched thin from wars started, still not finished?
In Obama's book, he tells how his mother in Jakarta used to get him up long before time for school so he could learn the English language better and understand Kansas as her parents had taught it to her. Little Barry soon learned to meld into the environment wherever he found himself. Finally he also learned that to be a human being of purpose, it was necessary to sort things out. So he gathered funds to see what his forebears were up to in Kenya. Good for him! Then he came back and studied enough law to be the politician he was headed for.
When The Audacity of Hope was published in 2006, would it be nothing but a spiel heading for higher sights after the Senate? Here are the first lines of the Prologue:
"It's been almost ten years since I first ran for political office. I was thirty-five at the time, four years out of law school, recently married, and generally impatient with life. "
He carries on in later paragraphs about impatience, including this:
"But whether I was meeting with two people or fifty, whether I was in one of the well-shaded, stately homes of the North Shore, a walk-up apartment on the West Side, or a farmhouse outside Bloomington, whether people were friendly, indifferent, or occasionally hostile, I tried my best to keep my mouth shut and hear what they have to say."
He delves into his drubbing by Representative Rush--a man who was once considered by many of us in Chicago as little more than a gang banger. Bobby Rush was in charge of the Chicago Black Panthers and on duty when Fred Hampton was shot by the Cook County Sheriff's office--an event which shook many of us on both sides of the racial divide. Once Obama had a poll taken which showed Bobby's name recognition was 90% with a 70% approval rating. His numbers were 11 and 8.
It's expected that an underlying discussion of race would be shielded from straight talk. As I read the book originally, and as I revisit it today for quotes, one question comes to mind, "What about Cairo?"
Originally, I wanted to see how he would be forced to discuss knotty problems such as Cairo, Illinois--a town in the spot where the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers meet--where somehow outright rage settled in. My husband and I drove there in the 60s on the way to Hot Springs. Nosy me! I wanted to make it our halfway overnight stop. As we were shunted off the Interstate, which did not come to Cairo then, we saw Sheriff's Deputies sitting in their cars. They explained there was no tourist accommodations, so we drove to Sikeston.
Obama tells how he and Senator Dick Durban did a tour of rural Illinois as a way of helping him win the Senatorship in 2004. And he makes some explanation of how things were better in Cairo than in the 60s. I was satisfied that his earlier experience at Altgeld Gardens and then his different milieu during his University of Chicago employment had made him comfortable grappling with ethnic bias as it is conventionally grappled with in places like the Senate.
Cairo, Egypt, as example of a troubled region, is quite a different matter. A mixture of major religious groups--and splits in each of them--makes for what will be tough sledding in the years ahead. There, intense oratory is called for.
How President Obama feels about poverty, race and the relationship between them (nationally and globally) I derive from his mentioning of Taylor Branch's trilogy on the King Years. What I'm not sure about is where he finds their most useful lessons. In serious discussions on C-Span, moderated by those with deep experience in civil rights days, I hear the suggestion that the third volume of Branch's work is the one to study most. When MLK and LBJ took opposite positions on war or better jobs, they both made life sacrifices.
As I write this I have just watched the first hour of NBC's interview of the family in the White House. It's cozy right down to a dog with white gogo boots. The president told Mr. Williams that what steadied him was reading letters from the people who write.
Also, as I write this, the first couple are in Saudi Arabia on their destination to Cairo, Egypt--scheduled for the big speech.
Might it be possible when the president returns that he sit down before a camera and give us a sense of how he feels about peace and war? I hope so.