Recently when I was in the library I saw a copy of Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope (2006) and nabbed it, thinking, well, I should have some idea of this guy that’s a bit deeper than a sound bite or even a speech. Then I got busy, and didn’t even flip it open until today when I decided to skip around and see if anything seemed, well, notable. Not a fair assessment, I’m sure, but then I could turn in the book knowing I had spent at least a moment on it….
I flipped to late in the book, wondering out what Obama would chose to reserve for the end. I was in the Epilogue (p. 360):
I remember a conversation I had almost twenty years ago with a friend of mine, an older man who had been active in civil rights efforts in Chicago in the sixties and was teaching urban studies at Northwestern University. I had just decided, after three years of organizing, to attend law school; because he was one of the few academics I knew, I had asked him if he would be willing to give me a recommendation.
He said he would be happy to write me the recommendation, but first wanted to know what I intended to do with a law degree. I mentioned my interest in a civil rights practice, and that at some point I might try my hand at running for office. He nodded his head and asked whether I had considered what might be involved in taking such a path, what I would be willing to do to make the Law Review, or make partner, or get elected to that first office and then move up the ranks. As a rule, both law and politics required compromise, he said; not just on issues, but on more fundamental things—your values and ideals. He wasn’t saying that to dissuade me, he said. It was just a fact. It was because of his unwillingness to compromise that, although he had been approached many times in his youth to enter politics, he had always declined.
Against all odds, I had found something that stood out to me, but not something that Obama had said (oops), but something someone had told him. Oh, well. I guess Obama chose to tell the tale, so he gets points for that.
As to the content, is the guy right? Is compromise that fundamental to law and politics, and to the role of those people leading in our representative government? I think he’s right that compromise is has a high stature in the Constitution, since checks and balances are all about compromise. On the other hand, we look to candidates to have firm opinions, voice them clearly, and adhere to them. Historically, we have always prized public leaders who demonstrated a reflectivity about their policies, ideas, and values.
Nowdays, there are factions within the populace, some quite vocal, who do not revere this idea of thinking, pondering and reevaluation, who, effectively, do not revere wisdom. I’m looking forward to this round of electioneering, to see how this all plays out this time around….