Every US presidency brings a mixture of hope and trepidation — and the traditional avalanche of books about the candidate, the campaign, and the potential — as well as the perils (real or imagined) — of the new presidency. For President Barack Obama, the traffic is all one-way for now. Where Bush was lambasted and lampooned, Obama is simply lauded.
There are books by the president himself; any number about his roots, his religion and his route to high office; and a few that give a glimpse of how he may handle the Herculean task of trying to stop his country slipping beneath the waves.
A real page-turner
Into this latter category falls the slim hardback, Change We Can Believe In. At 293 pages, it is almost three times longer than the cut-and-paste Building Ireland’s Smart Economy: A Framework for Sustainable Economic Renewal, which was launched by the Government with great fanfare in Dublin Castle last December. But it is still a real page-turner.
Even if you can still find the downloadable pamphlet that appeared originally on the campaign website, the book is still worth the money, and all of the proceeds go to charity. It has two parts: the plan to fix a broken country and a selection of speeches from the stump.
Offensive to none
This book seeks to connect with citizens in a way that many politicians have long forgotten. There’s none of the jaded jargon of the traditional manifesto and none of the careful crafting that political parties default to in their desire to be all things to all and offensive to none.
The language is communitarian in its origin and focus; the tone simple, direct and engaging. Only time will tell if this is the end of, or just a bump along, the old road of jaded politics. Obama’s success on the campaign trail lay in his ability to walk the tightrope that connects people’s deepest fears and their highest hopes with such consummate ease.
That is why this book, which covers all of the ground that any manifesto seeking to respond to the pressures and problems of a particular time would do, reads more like an honest conversation than the skilled pitch of a snake-oil salesman.That such a plan could have been written by anyone with an ounce of sense about the extent to which America has been diminished within and in the eyes of the world over the last eight years, is a testament both to the extent to which the currency of the country’s politics has been debased, and to how much its leaders have been disconnected from people because of their arrogance and complacency.
There is, of course, much more to this story than a big plan and fine speeches. Both were necessary, but not sufficient for success.
Political anoraks and party apparatchiks here were dispatched to study, at close quarters, the grassroots movement which was built from scratch for this campaign, and which now runs parallel to the party’s mainstream, hoping they may be able to learn something for future election campaigns in Ireland.
But if they have learned anything, it will be that message, messenger and medium together are the measure of success. If any is missing, all is lost.
* Change We Can Believe In: Barack Obama’s Plan to Renew America’s Promise (Canongate Books, €15.60).