A Promised Land

I’ve read about 4 chapters so far. Barack favors clarity in his writing, providing details in a matter-of-fact way. Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, was much more heartfelt and emotional, in my opinion.

In the first few chapters Barack covers his beginnings as a politician. From meeting Michelle, going to Harvard Law School, his time in the state senate in Illinois as part of the Democratic minority, his thoughts of giving up politics, and the surprise win in the election to become an Illinois senator in Congress. He also talked about how his election to congress brought him national attention, starting with a speech he gave calling the Iraq war a dumb war, and later his Democratic National Convention speech. His book deal which made him and Michelle more financially comfortable and eliminated a lot of worries.

He talks about connecting to people, meeting them, and really understanding the needs of those people from talking to them.

Barack also speaks to the Hurricane Katrina disaster and how it was then that he decided that he didn’t have time to sit back and make his way up in politics, but he needed to take decisive action to push the country to recognize the way it was blind to the needs of many Americans, in particular the poor and predominantly Black neighborhoods.

Obama talks about his run for president. How he questioned his motives, the sacrifice he put on his family and Michelle’s feelings towards politics boiling over. He talked about how it wasn’t clear why he was running or had to run, how the system just sort of elevated him and made it seem plausible given the attention he was getting. Ultimately, he answered Michelle that he’d run because if he’s sworn in as POTUS, more little boy and girls – black, latinos, etc. – may start to see the White House as a possibility for people like them.

More about the campaign. Funny characters such as Emily, the young Iowa woman who helped Obama the most and never smiled. After the critical pre caucus night, where Obama delivered a great speech, the exchange was funny:

“it was great,” Emily said”

“you don’t look very excited.”

“This is my excited face.”

Recounting New Hampshire loss and Obama’s “you’re likable enough, Hillary” comment that was poorly worded and backfired heavily.

Barrack addresses race, how running a campaign to appeal to everyone meant a focus on universal programs – education for every child, healthcare for everyone – which avoids a backlash from whites but also ignores the legacy of Jim Crow and the impact on Blacks even to this day.

Barrack talks about his stop in Birmingham Alabama, seeing those freedom fighters still going, and imagining their life and work. This revitalized him. Good crazy in the air, like good cholesterol. 🙂

Chapter 7- Obama recounts Michelle’s gaffe “for the first time in my adult life in truly proud of my country…” He also talks about having secret service assigned early due to the high number of threats, and how he felt increasingly trapped.

Barrack talks of the fallout after the reverend’s video comes out, writing a speech about race and the gulf between White America and Black America, and how he cried after his white grandma, Toot, told him she was proud of him. P143.

Barrack also writes about how he benefited from archaic delegate count rules in which he won a lot of smaller counties and that made him match Clinton’s delegate counts despite her winning larger share of the population.

Obama talks about his own gaffe when in San Francisco he was asked about Republicans voting against their own interests. Interesting that things that seem innocuous end up being huge stories, at least before Trump.

Choosing Joe Biden instead of Tim Kaine, to complement his leadership style and have an experienced senator with him.

McCain selects Sarah Palin as his running mate.

George Haywood’s warning about the housing market, which went nowhere since the federal reserve didn’t expect a systemic problem, just a potential softening ahead.

Inequality and how cheaper flat screen TVs don’t offset for layoffs, or rising healthcare and education costs – two markets where automation doesn’t help much.

McCain stops his campaign to go to Washington to work on the TARP proposal to control the economic downturn. President Bush calls a meeting as requested by McCain, forcing Obama back to the White House. Obama shows up prepared and speaks on behalf of democrats, instead of speaker Pelosi. McCain is totally unprepared for the meeting. Then it all falls into chaos, with no credible proposals from Republicans. Obama is annoyed.

Palin, Joe the plumber, fears of communism. Palin stoking nativist themes and insinuating that Obama was not a true American. “Not a man who sees America the way you and I see America.” McCain remained respectful towards Obama, but his crowd would even boo him when he didn’t bite into that narrative.

Toot’s passed away. Obama did a short trip to visit her in her final days. Eight days later she passed.

Obama won.

The visit to the White House, Bush showing him around and saying the difficult stuff would be taken care of by the time Obama became president.

Picking his political appointees with a focus on experience, despite how that would seem like more of the same, in particular in economics space. Larry Summers as Director of the National Economic Council (NEC) with the promise to become the next chair of the Fed, Tim Geithner his deputy selected to be Treasury Secretary.

Keeping Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense.

Rahm for chief of staff. Clinton for Secretary of state.

Trip to Hawaii, adjusting to the new normal, Michelle taking the bulk of the home and family prep – trying to keep normalcy for the girls, sidelining her career, potential loneliness in the white house – asking her mom to go live in the white house with them. Marian Robinson brought humility and steadiness to the White House.

Addressing the economic crisis resulting from the 2008 housing market crash. The need to put money into people’s pockets fast made it so that large scale, transformative projects were not considered. Needed quick action such as tax cuts, repaving roads, etc.

Discourse on lack of cooperation in Congress and deeper partisan divide. Polarization throughout the years driven by progress in some liberal agenda items – civil rights for african americans, gay rights, etc. – and other scandals – Clinton impeachment.

His descriptions of the “four tops” including a funny description of Mitch and lots of respect for Nancy Pelosi’s political shrewdness. It was interesting to have him translate congress speech into plain English.

Limitations in communications with a silly BlackBerry.

Barrack talks about living and selling in the white house with the many servants, butlers, and maids.

The G20 summit. America. Michelle’s visit to schools and the michelle effect.

Love the descriptions of foreign leaders, Brazil’s president, interactions with russian president, and the dynamic between Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy.

Somalian pirates. Counterterrorism and speeches on anti terrorism with a focus on educating americans about muslims.

Switched to audiobook

King Abdullah in saudi arabia, had many wives. No diversity, women repressed.

Reflections on how the elite gave each other expensive gifts, while there was so much desperation among the many poor, those that would go to extremes and could get activated by things like terrorist organizations.

All the details about passing the ACA. People opposing because it is such a large industry, lots of people trying to scare voters to not support. Ted Kennedy, Mitt Romney, etc.

H1N1 and his handling very interesting during covid-19 lockdown…

Sonia Sotomayor confirmation.

Iran nuclear arms proliferation.

Putin’s popularity in Russia.

The role of the UN in avoiding war.

China’s currency manipulation, espionage, etc. And dominance in Asia as the US had focused so much in the middle east over the past 8 years. China’s complain that they are still a developing economy, with more than 1/3 of the population in poverty.

Climate Change and Obama’s perspective that it is important, and became critical, but only after jobs, education, etc.

Thought for discussion: most of Obama’s challenges have to do with opposition from the business sector. Healthcare and Climate Change being big examples. How can we as employees and investors help promote alignment between what is good for the world and economic interests?

Copenhagen. Funny negotiations and Obama with Hillary crashing the meeting BRICs where having. Quick negotiations and an interim agreement after an hour. Pretty awesome. 😎Obama.

Criticism of the communications strategy. Approval going down. Unemployment continuing to tick up and getting to 10%.

Finally, 2 years after the crisis started in 2009 there was a jobs gain. Then Greece exploded.

A foreshadowing of nationalism in Russia, during the Greek economy explosion, etc.

Women experiences in the white house weren’t good, or minorities, had a dinner with the women and they aired their problems; Obama realized that the usual way of doing things wasn’t good for inclusiveness. Overly harsh, etc.

Quitting smoking.

Not letting the stress of the presidency shake him to the core. Recurring dream of not being recognized and being able to freely go to the corner store to buy a bottle of water.

Financial reform and Mitch McConnell’s happiness that obstruction had been working well for them. Obama’s split, centrist thinking on both healthcare and financial regulation – trying to find compromise rather than big changes like breaking down large banks.

Elizabeth Warren and the consumer financial protection bureau. The passage of Dodd-Frank. P. 556 and all the compromises along the way to get the votes. Some good provisions included improved disclosures of executive compensation, transparency in credit rating agencies, claw back mechanisms.

The BP Gulf spill and Bobby Jindal annoying.

Guantanamo and the difficulties of closing it out. Repatriation problematic due to potential mishandling or abuse in their home countries (Uyghurs, Yemen). Trials complicated by lack of records or useful admissible evidence.

Rahm’s honesty was helpful. And funny.

The midterm elections went terribly and Obama was making calls to those who lost their seats, particularly pained by those from swing districts that stuck to Obama’s agenda and lost reelection.

Obama’s India visit and his respect for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Quickly passing a string of bills before the house had a republican majority. Extending Bush tax cuts as a negotiation with McConnell, New START treaty, Michelle’s child nutrition bill.

Obama addresses his thinking about immigration and lgbtq people. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. DREAMS act – if ever before 16, attend high school and college, live in the US for 5+ years, no serious criminal record – failed to pass, only got 55 votes.

AIPAC’s clout at pushing the Israel view on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Egypt uprising after it started in Tunisia and Mubarak

Bin Laden’s killing.