The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream
  • The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream
  • The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream

The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream

3.8 341
by Barack Obama

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“A government that truly represents these Americans–that truly serves these Americans–will require a different kind of politics. That politics will need to reflect our lives as they are actually lived. It won’t be pre-packaged, ready to pull off the shelf. It will have to be constructed from the best of our traditions and will have to account…  See more details below


“A government that truly represents these Americans–that truly serves these Americans–will require a different kind of politics. That politics will need to reflect our lives as they are actually lived. It won’t be pre-packaged, ready to pull off the shelf. It will have to be constructed from the best of our traditions and will have to account for the darker aspects of our past. We will need to understand just how we got to this place, this land of warring factions and tribal hatreds. And we’ll need to remind ourselves, despite all our differences, just how much we share: common hopes, common dreams, a bond that will not break.”
–from The Audacity of Hope

Before becoming the 44th President-elect of the United States, in July 2004, Barack Obama electrified the Democratic National Convention with an address that spoke to Americans across the political spectrum. One phrase in particular anchored itself in listeners’ minds, a reminder that for all the discord and struggle to be found in our history as a nation, we have always been guided by a dogged optimism in the future, or what President Obama called “the audacity of hope.”

In The Audacity of Hope, President Obama called for a different brand of politics–a politics for those weary of bitter partisanship and alienated by the “endless clash of armies” we see in congress and on the campaign trail; a politics rooted in the faith, inclusiveness, and nobility of spirit at the heart of “our improbable experiment in democracy.” He explores those forces–from the fear of losing to the perpetual need to raise money to the power of the media–that can stifle even thebest-intentioned politician. He also writes, with surprising intimacy and self-deprecating humor, about settling in as a senator, seeking to balance the demands of public service and family life, and his own deepening religious commitment.

At the heart of this book is President Obama’s vision of how we can move beyond our divisions to tackle concrete problems. He examines the growing economic insecurity of American families, the racial and religious tensions within the body politic, and the transnational threats–from terrorism to pandemic–that gather beyond our shores. And he grapples with the role that faith plays in a democracy–where it is vital and where it must never intrude. Underlying his stories about family, friends, members of the Senate, even the president, is a vigorous search for connection: the foundation for a radically hopeful political consensus.

President Obama wrote a book of transforming power. Only by returning to the principles that gave birth to our Constitution, he says, can Americans repair a political process that is broken, and restore to working order a government that has fallen dangerously out of touch with millions of ordinary Americans. Those Americans are out there, he writes–“waiting for Republicans and Democrats to catch up with them.”

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Editorial Reviews

"We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States, and yes, we've got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq, and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq." On July 27, 2004, U.S. Senate candidate Barack Obama riveted a nationwide television audience with his Democratic National Convention keynote speech. In this stirring volume, Senator Obama shares his thoughts about healing the divisions in our country.

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The Audacity of Hope

By Barack Obama

Random House

Barack Obama

All right reserved.

ISBN: 0307237699

Chapter One


It's been almost ten years since I first ran for political office. I was thirty-five at the time, four years out of law school, recently married, and generally impatient with life. A seat in the Illinois legislature had opened up, and several friends suggested that I run, thinking that my work as a civil rights lawyer, and contacts from my days as a community organizer, would make me a viable candidate. After discussing it with my wife, I entered the race and proceeded to do what every first-time candidate does: I talked to anyone who would listen. I went to block club meetings and church socials, beauty shops and barbershops. If two guys were standing on a corner, I would cross the street to hand them campaign literature. And everywhere I went, I'd get some version of the same two questions.

"Where'd you get that funny name?"

And then: "You seem like a nice enough guy. Why do you want to go into something dirty and nasty like politics?"

I was familiar with the question, a variant on the questions asked of me years earlier, when I'd first arrived in Chicago to work in low-income neighborhoods. It signaled a cynicism not simply with politics but with the very notion of a public life, a cynicism that–at least in the South Side neighborhoods I sought to represent–had been nourished by a generation of broken promises. In response, I would usually smile and nod and say thatI understood the skepticism, but that there was–and always had been–another tradition to politics, a tradition that stretched from the days of the country's founding to the glory of the civil rights movement, a tradition based on the simple idea that we have a stake in one another, and that what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart, and that if enough people believe in the truth of that proposition and act on it, then we might not solve every problem, but we can get something meaningful done. It was a pretty convincing speech, I thought. And although I'm not sure that the people who heard me deliver it were similarly impressed, enough of them appreciated my earnestness and youthful swagger that I made it to the Illinois legislature.

Six years later, when I decided to run for the United States Senate, I wasn't so sure of myself.

By all appearances, my choice of careers seemed to have worked out. After spending my two terms during which I labored in the minority, Democrats had gained control of the state senate, and I had subsequently passed a slew of bills, from reforms of the Illinois death penalty system to an expansion of the state's health program for kids. I had continued to teach at the University of Chicago Law School, a job I enjoyed, and was frequently invited to speak around town. I had preserved my independence, my good name, and my marriage, all of which, statistically speaking, had been placed at risk the moment I set foot in the state capital.

But the years had also taken their toll. Some of it was just a function of my getting older, I suppose, for if you are paying attention, each successive year will make you more intimately acquainted with all of your flaws–the blind spots, the recurring habits of thought that may be genetic or may be environmental, but that will almost certainly worsen with time, as surely as the hitch in your walk turns to pain in your hip. In me, one of those flaws had proven to be a chronic restlessness; an inability to appreciate, no matter how well things were going, those blessings that were right there in front of me. It's a flaw that is endemic to modern life, I think–endemic, too, in the American character–and one that is nowhere more evident than in the field of politics. Whether politics actually encourages the trait or simply attracts those who possess it is unclear. Lyndon Johnson, who knew much about both politics and restlessness, once said that every man is trying to either live up to his father's expectations or make up for his father's mistakes, and I suppose that may explain my particular malady as well as anything else.

In any event, it was as a consequence of that restlessness that I decided to challenge a sitting Democratic incumbent for his congressional seat in the 2000 election cycle. It was an ill-considered race, and I lost badly–the sort of drubbing that awakens you to the fact that life is not obliged to work out as you'd planned. A year and a half later, the scars of that loss sufficiently healed, I had lunch with a media consultant who had been encouraging me for some time to run for statewide office. As it happened, the lunch was scheduled for late September 2001.

"You realize, don't you, that the political dynamics have changed," he said as he picked at his salad.

"What do you mean?" I asked, knowing full well what he meant. We both looked down at the newspaper beside him. There, on the front page, was Osama bin Laden.

"Hell of a thing, isn't it?" he said, shaking his head. "Really bad luck. You can't change your name, of course. Voters are suspicious of that kind of thing. Maybe if you were at the start of your career, you know, you could use a nickname or something. But now... "His voice trailed off and he shrugged apologetically before signaling the waiter to bring us the check.

I suspected he was right, and that realization ate away at me. For the first time in my career, I began to experience the envy of seeing younger politicians succeed where I had failed, moving into higher offices, getting more things done. The pleasures of politics–the adrenaline of debate, the animal warmth of shaking hands and plunging into a crowd–began to pale against the meaner tasks of the job: the begging for money, the long drives home after the banquet had run two hours longer than scheduled, the bad food and stale air and clipped phone conversations with a wife who had stuck by me so far but was pretty fed up with raising our children alone and was beginning to question my priorities. Even the legislative work, the policy-making that had gotten me to run in the first place, began to feel too incremental, too removed from the larger battles–over taxes, security, health care, and jobs–that were being waged on a national stage. I began to harbor doubts about the path I had chosen; I began feeling the way I imagine an actor or athlete must feel when, after years of commitment to a particular dream, after years of waiting tables between auditions or scratching out hits in the minor leagues, he realizes that he's gone just about as far as talent or fortune will take him. The dream will not happen, and he now faces the choice of accepting this fact like a grown-up and moving on to more sensible pursuits, or refusing the truth and ending up bitter, quarrelsome, and slightly pathetic.

Denial, anger, bargaining, despair–I'm not sure I went through all the stages prescribed by the experts. At some point, though, I arrived at acceptance–of my limits, and, in a way, my mortality. I refocused on my work in the state senate and took satisfaction from the reforms and initiatives that my position afforded. I spent more time at home, and watched my daughters grow, and properly cherished my wife, and thought about my long-term financial obligations. I exercised, and read novels, and came to appreciate how the earth rotated around the sun and the seasons came and went without any particular exertions on my part.

And it was this acceptance, I think, that allowed me to come up with the thoroughly cockeyed idea of running for the United States Senate. An up-or-out strategy was how I described it to my wife, one last shot to test out my ideas before I settled into a calmer, more stable, and better-paying existence. And she–perhaps more out of pity than conviction–agreed to this one last race, though she also suggested that given the orderly life she preferred for our family, I shouldn't necessarily count on her vote.

I let her take comfort in the long odds against me. The Republican incumbent, Peter Fitzgerald, had spent $19 million of his personal wealth to unseat the previous senator, Carol Moseley Braun. He wasn't widely popular; in fact he didn't really seem to enjoy politics all that much. But he still had unlimited money in his family, as well as a genuine integrity that had earned him grudging respect from the voters.

For a time Carol Moseley Braun reappeared, back from an ambassadorship in New Zealand and with thoughts of trying to reclaim her old seat; her possible candidacy put my own plans on hold. When she decided to run for the presidency instead, everyone else started looking at the Senate race. By the time Fitzgerald announced he would not seek reelection, I was staring at six primary opponents, including the sitting state comptroller; a businessman worth hundreds of millions of dollars; Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's former chief of staff; and a black, female health-care professional who the smart money assumed would split the black vote and doom whatever slim chances I'd had in the first place.

I didn't care. Freed from worry by low expectations, my credibility bolstered by several helpful endorsements, I threw myself into the race with an energy and joy that I thought I had lost. I hired four staffers, all of them smart, in their twenties or early thirties, and suitably cheap. We found a small office, printed letterhead, installed phone lines and several computers. Four or five hours a day, I called major Democratic donors and tried to get my calls returned. I held press conferences to which nobody came. We signed up for the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade and were assigned the parade's very last slot, so that my ten volunteers and I found ourselves marching just a few paces ahead of the city's sanitation trucks, waving to the few stragglers who remained on the route while workers swept up garbage and peeled green shamrock stickers off the lampposts.

Mostly, though, I just traveled, often driving alone, first from ward to ward in Chicago, then from county to county and town to town, eventually up and down the state, across miles and miles of cornfields and beanfields and train tracks and silos. It wasn't an efficient process. Without the machinery of the state's Democratic Party organization, without any real mailing list or Internet operation, I had to rely on friends or acquaintances to open their houses to who ever might come, or to arrange for my visit to their church, union hall, bridge group, or Rotary Club. Sometimes, after several hours of driving, I would find just two or three people waiting for me around a kitchen table. I would have to assure the hosts that the turnout was fine and compliment them on the refreshments they'd prepared. Sometimes I would sit through a church service and the pastor would forget to recognize me, or the head of the union local would let me speak to his members just before announcing that the union had decided to endorse someone else.

But whether I was meeting with two people or fifty, whether I was in one of the well-shaded, stately homes of the North Shore, a walk-up apartment on the West Side, or a farmhouse outside Bloomington, whether people were friendly, indifferent, or occasionally hostile, I tried my best to keep my mouth shut and hear what they had to say. I listened to people talk about their jobs, their businesses, the local school; their anger at Bush and their anger at Democrats; their dogs, their back pain, their war service, and the things they remembered from childhood. Some had well-developed theories to explain the loss of manufacturing jobs or the high cost of health care. Some recited what they had heard on Rush Limbaugh or NPR. But most of them were too busy with work or their kids to pay much attention to politics, and they spoke instead of what they saw before them: a plant closed, a promotion, a high heating bill, a parent in a nursing home, a child's first step.

No blinding insights emerged from these months of conversation. If anything, what struck me was just how modest people's hopes were, and how much of what they believed seemed to hold constant across race, region, religion, and class. Most of them thought that anybody willing to work should be able to find a job that paid a living wage. They figured that people shouldn't have to file for bankruptcy because they got sick. They believed that every child should have a genuinely good education–that it shouldn't just be a bunch of talk–and that those same children should be able to go to college even if their parents weren't rich. They wanted to be safe, from criminals and from terrorists; they wanted clean air, clean water, and time with their kids. And when they got old, they wanted to be able to retire with some dignity and respect.

That was about it. It wasn't much. And although they understood that how they did in life depended mostly on their own efforts–although they didn't expect government to solve all their problems, and certainly didn't like seeing their tax dollars wasted–they figured that government should help.

I told them that they were right: government couldn't solve all their problems. But with a slight change in priorities we could make sure every child had a decent shot at life and meet the challenges we faced as a nation. More often than not, folks would nod in agreement and ask how they could get involved. And by the time I was back on the road, with a map on the passenger's seat, on my way to my next stop, I knew once again just why I'd gone into politics.

I felt like working harder than I'd ever worked in my life.

This book grows directly out of those conversations on the campaign trail. Not only did my encounters with voters confirm the fundamental decency of the American people, they also reminded me that at the core of the American experience are a set of ideals that continue to stir our collective conscience; a common set of values that bind us together despite our differences; a running thread of hope that makes our improbable experiment in democracy work. These values and ideals find expression not just in the marble slabs of monuments or in the recitation of history books. They remain alive in the hearts and minds of most Americans–and can inspire us to pride, duty, and sacrifice.

I recognize the risks of talking this way. In an era of globalization and dizzying technological change, cutthroat politics and unremitting culture wars, we don't even seem to possess a shared language with which to discuss our ideals, much less the tools to arrive at some rough consensus about how, as a nation, we might work together to bring those ideals about. Most of us are wise to the ways of admen, pollsters, speechwriters, and pundits.


Excerpted from The Audacity of Hope
by Barack Obama Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

BARACK OBAMA is the 44th President-elect of the United States.

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Audacity Of Hope 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 341 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Absolutely amazing. Although I disagree with some of Obama's views, he presents them in a way that requires one to reexamine their ideas and beliefs. For every argument he makes, he shows a real-world example and provides a practically flawless arguement. I am a high school senior and he writes in such a way that I understand the issues he's discussing, even if I hadn't previously deeply thought about them. This should be required reading for AP Government classes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Audacity of Hope completely reaffirmed to me why I am voting for Barack Obama for President. Brilliantly written, this book is intelligent, thought-provoking and even-keel. Barack did a fantastic job. This book is clearly written and explains what he believes and why. It completely proved to me that he has the intelligence, experience and good judgement to make the best possible 44th President of the United States.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have to wonder when it became unpalatable to dream big in this nation. When did we stop believing in the power of our dreams? Yes, Obama wants what we all want for our country. But why is that a bad thing? I don't know if I believe he can fully achieve all that he talks about doing in this book, but he can definitely lay the groundwork for change. To me, that is what he is saying more so than 'I am the one who will come in and change this country.' He may not be able to change this country but I think the point is that he inspires us to want to change our country. We shouldn't let our fears and insecurities about something new stop us from wanting change as well. I found this book uplifting and it made me smile. Sorry if some think that those who support Obama aren't living in the 'real world'. But it's our very existence in this 'real world' that makes us WANT to support him.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm still in high school, and this is the last election that I won't be able to vote in. As a result of Barack Obama's amazing and inspirational speeches, I've become more involved in the events of this election than ever before. I picked up this book not sure what to expect, another political nonsense book or something pure art like his first book. To my great surprise I found an outstanding, beautifully written meeting of the two. It is a book filled with the problems of our time as well as the solutions, put into the beautiful writing styles of Senator Obama. I'd recommend this book for anyone waiting for inspiration in a time when all hell seems to have broken loose.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is not a book guided at one party and does not harp on any one belief to simply justify it. What it is, is an inside look at what makes this country tick. The laws, the people in charge, how it all came together and how it works. You WILL want to know more about your government after ready AUDACITY. It is the most patriotic voice today without preaching. And, I feel, that somewhere, somehow in a special place in my personage, I'm better for it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a great read and a wonderful insight into SEN. Obama's thinking. This man has the ability, like that of JFK, to see all sides of an issue. While the more conservative reader may not agree with many of the changes he seeks in this book, it should please moderates and liberals. It is extremely well written and enjoyable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wow, so... having a socialistic dream of demolishing the American way of life and masking it with unjustified entitlements that no one can afford and people still think he is the right president for this country. He would be the ideal president of a country that is an enemy of the USA. Currently holds the record for the lowest public approval rating but wait, what he writes about is really what he wants for us? Actions speak louder than words and despite whatever he writes about in a book, the history will show what his intentions really were and are. All you two-star rating and above, how does that Cool Aid taste?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Obama= 100% talk, 0% do it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the prez who spent over a week blaming an innocent man for the tragedy of Bengazi.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very, very wordy book. The author's writing style seems to this reader to be quite superfluous, almost as if you were listening to a campaign speech. Much of what is said in the book seems to contradict his current day actions. There are however, fragments of the book that are very personal and interesting. These scraps may give the reader some insight on who the author really is, I.e. his 'real' theology as well as ideology. Very difficult to read but a MUST read no matter what your politics.
PetuniaCH More than 1 year ago
Reading this book was enlightening, touching, absorbing and down right enjoyable. When I decided to support Barack Obama for President of the United States, many people asked me why I was so certain about his ability. My response was a simple one: "I can see that he has a good heart and his intelligence is unquestionable. He is what we need." After reading this book, I can feel the goodness in his heart, and I am convinced of his ability to lead the United States back to our greatness. Audacity of Hope is one of the best non-fiction books I have ever read and certainly the best in several years.
MJPick More than 1 year ago
I drive 75 miles round trip per day, I originally purchased this book in paperback but didn't have the time to read it. I purchased the audio version and found myself listening to it over and over. This book is enlightening and provocative. The author has a geniune sense of self and the ability to make the reader believe that he too can accomplish any goal as long as he maintains focus and works hard to achieve. The reader compells you to get involved and actually be a part of the solution instead of complaining about the problems. I have his other book "Dreams of my Father" in paperback, but will pick up the audio version of it as well.
Anonymous 16 days ago
Anyone downing our President clearly has no idea of all the good he has done WHILE bringing the deficit DOWN! Now I know all you Reagan lovers think Obama has failed. Clearly that just shows you dislike facts just like science.
Anonymous 8 months ago
I love this book
Anonymous 10 months ago
President Obama woke me up to the truth. A truth that does not claim a specific social class, one that does not wear a party hat. A truth that is raceless, ageless, genderless and timeless. He is the face of change, real leadership, the “thousand points of light" this country needed. My respect and admiration of the President is beyond words. I look forward to reading any book he writes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I stumbled across this book one day when I was in the library. It was on the shelf, and I remember turning my head and seeing the  Obama's face on the book. Out of shook--I didn't know he wrote a book-- I started reading it and I was very surprised. President Obama  posses a very rare gift, a gift you don't see in politics these days, the ability to write candidly about himself and not seem very "assembled." In this book he talks about his endeavors as a black man growing and all the nuances associated with being black (something I am very familiar with) and how he grew up with out a father. He also wrote another book (one I highly recommend if you enjoyed this one) "Dreams From My Father: A story of race and inheritance." In this book he talks about his life growing up and how he longed to know his father. I hope you all enjoy this book, for it is a very thought provoking and good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Seriously look at the reviews now and the reviews in 2008. He lied to us!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldnt agree more. Well said my friend. <p> OBAMA YOU ARE A 'BEEPIN' *pfft*
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
DONT THREATIN HIM! YOU ARE PROVING HIS POINT THAT CONSERVATIVES ARE RACIST. Personaly I think that he dhouldnt be killed. Impeached is ok but asadinated is not right.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
very interesting and well written.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
AdaGnA More than 1 year ago
Go president!!! lovely book...very positive. God bless you 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Obama is a moron boom boom at his head