You’re the president, so you can save the tigers. –8 year old Sasha Obama

A big, fascinating book

By Roger Childs

My brother gave me Barrack Obama’s autobiography for Christmas and I immediately realised it was not a book to drop on your bare foot! At over 700 pages –- and this is just Part 1 — I thought that reading it would be a mission, but I loved it. It is absolutely fascinating and if you are interested in American politics and history, or just in biographies, you’ll enjoy it. 

It goes to show that if Obama hadn’t been a lawyer, community worker, lecturer and politician he could have made a very comfortable living as a journalist and writer.

He’s probably one of the most intelligent, idealistic and hard-working men to serve in the White House. 

This is not “The great I am, look what I achieved?” book but a comprehensive coverage of:

  • his working class roots and mixed-race family
  • his upbringing in Hawaii and Indonesia
  • meeting up with Michelle and the close-knit family that developed
  • university education and work as a lawyer, community advocate and politician in Illinois
  • running for the US Senate and later the Presidency
  • the successes – of which there were many — and failures of his first term.

Becoming president

Throughout the book Obama gives huge credit to all the people, mainly Democrats but some Republicans, who assisted him along the way in his upbringing and various policy initiatives, and he freely acknowledges his faults, weaknesses, gaffes and failures. 

He campaigned for the presidency in 2008 on a platform of bringing change and greater equity for the American people especially in education, incomes, job opportunities and health care.  But his predecessor George W Bush gave him a hospital pass in leaving an economy on the verge of collapse as the sub-prime mortgage and toxic bonds scandal had wreaked havoc. The US and the world was on the edge of another great depression so the proposed policy initiatives were set aside to focus on the economy. Fortunately within six months thanks to the hard work of a talented team and getting the Recovery Act through Congress, the administration saw the economy turn the corner.

However, there were plenty of frustrations and not all his campaign promises were carried through. 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate and later Tea Party leader, Sarah Palin taunted him: How’s the hopey, changey thing going?

The inside story

As he considers the different issues and challenges facing his government Obama provides copious, but highly interesting detail on the background, history and implications of what he wanted to achieve. Through it all his humanity, tolerance and humour comes through and his desire to leave the USA and the world a better place. 

Barack Obama’s grasp of the detail of economics, US History, climate issues, the complex American health system and world affairs is comprehensive. In A Promised Land there is excellent analysis of world affairs, perceptive observations of fellow politicians of his time and delightful detail on the family life and leisure time for the Obamas. Some interesting details emerge:

  • Michelle’s garden in the White House grounds produced more food than the kitchens could cope with so the surplus went to local food banks.
  • The President loved playing basketball and often played with his staff. He also helped coach his daughter’s basketball team.
  • He struggled with trying to give up smoking.

Not easy governing the USA!

One thing is apparent throughout — governing New Zealand is a piece of cake compared with the USA. The American Founding Fathers built in checks and balances between the three branches of government — the executive, legislature and judiciary — to prevent a dictatorship ever occurring, but boy did that make the governing process complicated. Presidents have to deal with the House of Representatives, the Senate, the Supreme Court and 50 state governments not to mention the media, which means plenty of negotiation, trade-offs, diplomacy and concessions. In looking at the particular measures for change that were enacted in Obama’s time it is easy to say Why didn’t he …?, but then you look at what the administration had to go through to get initiatives that far and you understand.

There were plenty of frustration for Obama and one was Donald Trump’s “Birther” movement which claimed that the president had not been born in the USA. It was nonsense of course, as he was born in Hawaii, but the media was full of it at a time when important issues were confronting the country and should have been getting the headlines. In the end Obama got the last laugh when he gave Trump, who was present, a verbal towelling at the annual White House Press Corps do.

Lay your hands on A Promised Land if you haven’t already done so – you won’t be disappointed. I am eagerly awaiting the publication of Part 2.