Sunday, July 20, 2008


It was hard not to become an even bigger Barack Obama fan after reading his memoir. Sure, everyone knows how the story goes by now, but it was still fascinating to read about the details, not least of which is because he writes so well, balancing his stories and his reflections delicately. It was a thoughtful but not sentimental, articulate but not boring. It also held some treasures for a Filipino reader, not just for the cameos of Filipino neighbors in scenes from his early days in Hawaii. He describes life in rural Indonesia, sleeping under the kulambo, playing with tutubi on a string. He writes about Kenya, a steady procession of second and third cousins, all of whom still count as family, just it does here in the Philippines. They're poor, yes, but they can't help but throw a big banquet for the balikbayan Barack. It's fun to imagine that in a few months' time, this man who's had something similar to a Pinoy life will become President of the United States.

While I was finishing the book, the blogosphere was abuzz with disappointment about Obama's support for the new Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The controversial provision involved retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies who helped the US government spy on phone conversations. It was such a disappointing, disheartening decision by Obama, and it provided such a gulf between the man from the book I was reading and the man in the spotlight.

Fortunately, there was this incisive article from the New Yorker provided a better look at Obama the politician, and how he cut his teeth in the tough world of Chicago politics.

Like many politicians, Obama is paradoxical. He is by nature an incrementalist, yet he has laid out an ambitious first-term agenda (energy independence, universal health care, withdrawal from Iraq). He campaigns on reforming a broken political process, yet he has always played politics by the rules as they exist, not as he would like them to exist. He runs as an outsider, but he has succeeded by mastering the inside game. He is ideologically a man of the left, but at times he has been genuinely deferential to core philosophical insights of the right.

This was, by the way, the article that accompanied the even more controversial cover that featured Obama as a Muslim and his wife an AK47-toting commie. You ought to read the whole thing.

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