Book review: A Promised Land
The former president reflects on his time in office.
by hammad ali, Contributor
I lived my most impressionable years around the same time when former U.S. president Barack Obama was rising through the ranks from an Illinois Senator to the first ever African-American president of the United States. I have read both the books he wrote before his eight years in office, and was eagerly waiting for his latest book, A Promised Land, slated as the first volume of his memoirs as president. I would have to admit I am something of a fan.
Anyone who followed the news while Obama was active in politics knows he is a brilliant speaker. As his most recent book shows, he is also a gifted writer. The nearly 1000-page book discusses heavy issues but is always easy to read while also making you think. However, to me, the strongest point of the book was the refreshing bluntness. Obviously, Obama has no more elections to win and no more funds to raise for his own campaigns. This manifests in the honesty with which he is able to state opinions in this book, no longer bound by the shackles of not wanting to displease anyone. Thus, we are offered a glimpse of his displeasure with the way Hillary Clinton’s team attacked him during the 2008 primaries, or his candidly stating how the Republican Party did not even bother pretending that there is any reason for their obstruction of Obama other than that he is, well, Obama.
When talking about the efforts to pass the Affordable Care Act, he is honest about how some senators stringed them along for months, and when finally confronted about whether they would vote yes even if all their demands were met, just said “I am afraid not”. Everyone is the hero in their own story, but one still senses the frustration Obama experienced due to the deep polarization of America on issues like the role the government plays in giving all citizens a level playing field. In his recollection of repealing laws discriminating against members of the LGBTQ community in the Armed Forces, he candidly admits to having been unaware of their struggles when he was younger and more full of typical machismo.
While mostly covering his first presidential term, the book also details his campaign trail and all the sacrifices his family had to make as a consequence of his political ambitions. There are entire chapters devoted to his interactions with other heads of state such as Putin, Manmohan Singh, and the King of Saudi Arabia. The American approach to climate change and the difficulties of getting some other nations onboard is mentioned as well. Once again, one does need to keep in mind that we are hearing one side of the story. But it does come across as the story of someone trying to do the right thing but finding himself able to do a lot less than they had anticipated.
This volume, which is supposed to be followed by a sequel covering his second presidential term, ends with the assassination of Osama bin Laden. Maybe this is his tacit acceptance that after a first term when several legislation battles left his approval ratings hurting, this successful mission against probably the most hated man in the USA at that point did a lot to help him get re-elected. Nevertheless, the book was a pleasant read, covers many interesting anecdotes of his first term in office, and I am certainly looking forward to the next volume!