Books

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Audacity: How Barack Obama Defied His Critics and Transformed America’ by Jonathan Chait

If you can’t say something nice …

Sometimes, it’s hard to say nothing at all. There are times when you need to speak out, to confront, share your opinion, rant or vent. And then there are times, as in the new book “Audacity” by Jonathan Chait, where you must praise.

For perhaps the last few months of Barack Obama’s presidency, media outlets have debated about something that definitely matters: was he one of the best presidents, or one of the worst?

It’s the former, says Chait, even though he admits there are times when it looks like the latter. Obama, he says, however, absolutely succeeded at what he set out to do, and this book follows that argument.

Though the civil rights movement was 40-some years prior to the day a black man moved into the White House, racial issues keenly split the country over the last eight years, not along lines of race, but on political lines. White America often denied it, but Obama forced a harder soul-search on racism.

He reportedly had a large agenda upon taking office in 2009, but it quickly became clear that his work would be to avoid, rather than fix, another Great Depression. He succeeded, but no President gets kudos for things like that. Instead, says Chait, there was — and still is — criticism about his actions, economically.

Health care legislation insured millions of Americans who otherwise would have no coverage, thanks to Obama and a surprising number of ideas that first came from the Republicans. As a new president, Obama boosted the economy by spending money on green energy, with an eye toward global climate concerns. He helped restore America’s worldwide “standing” and foresaw China and India as budding superpowers.

So why is anyone questioning his audacity, or the legacy he leaves behind?  The answer to that lies in the recent past, and in the history of 20th-century American politics. Understanding both, and what happens from here, is enhanced by learning what’s inside “Audacity.”

Just know first that there’s a lot to absorb.

Because author Jonathan Chait is also a political columnist, the goings-on behind the scenes in Washington are presented in great detail in this book. That can be both a good thing and a bad thing: good, because Chait is clear in reasoning and thorough in fact-finding, in favor of arguments for a stellar Obama legacy; bad, because this thoroughness becomes quite heavy at times.

That could turn away readers with a lesser palate for politics, although one wouldn’t have to look hard to see why persevering is important: Chait explains how Obama’s tenure as president ultimately turned out as it did, and why many voters are still, perhaps wrongly, disappointed in his work. Chait then goes on to clearly illuminate what happened at the last election, and why.

Give yourself time for a careful read of this book, especially if you might disagree with its author. There’s argument in here that may — or may not — change minds, but either way, “Audacity” might at least give you something nice to say.

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