05 August 2010

The Promise

It's August, so here's one recommendation for your summer reading:
Many of the men and women who dare to lead our nation are extraordinarily intelligent and ambitious people.  This we know.  So it ought to be with a sense of reverence and humility that we may challenge policies and motivations of those who are elected to serve us, and none is more scrutinized than the President of the United States.  Of all those who have held the office, the last three Presidents--Clinton, Bush and now Obama--have come into the Oval Office as the information about them, the media coverage of them, and their own complicit participation in the technological tools of communication utilized to support their own work have undergone a total revolution.

So far, I've not said anything no one else has ever said before.

But having just finished Jonathan Alter's book, The Promise, I have to admit to having to re-start my sense of respect and admiration of President Obama.  Alter provides a blow by blow examination of Obama's first year in office (the book actually covers that last months of the 2008 campaign, including fascinating background on negotiations with Bush and McCain to save the economy.)  Before I read it, I would have counted myself among a growing number of people who found themselves frustrated by the seemingly slow-moving pace of the progress toward "change" and "hope" and like many, have had numerous debates and arguments with friends about economic policy, health-care policy, war policy, Israel policy--you name it. 

Don't get me wrong--as a partisan, I remained very much in the President's camp.  But I wanted (and still desire) more fire in the belly, especially at a time when so many are caught up in the outlandish and outrageous recasting of American politics.

And yet.

And yet over and over again, page after page, one sees a methodical and strategic mind at work, mapping out victories, winning support, pushing in a partisan way only when absolutely necessary, and, without a doubt, cleaning up one of the most enormous messes ever wrought on any American government in history.  The book is both energizing and exhausting when one begins to list the number of problems that the President had to face, while fending off paranoia and hysteria, covert and overt racism, and some of most bizarre conspiracy theories that any modern leader has faced.

His has been a nearly impossible task and when one reads Alter's book and realizes how much was actually accomplished in the first year of office by a man who served one term in the U.S. Senate and in theory was not in possession of the classic resume to assume the title of President of the United States, one must be deeply impressed.

A perfect year and a half?  Far from it.  And Alter does a great job questioning certain decisions that a more experienced politician would have done differently.  But remarkably better than anyone else out there these days and a list of achievements that others have not been able to attain. 

The President and First Lady are truly impressive people and despite the chaos that seems to swirl around us, I'm proud to live in a nation led by them.

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