I feel like no review I write could do justice to this incredible memoir. I learned so much, and feel changed having read it.
A Promised Land, the first part of President Barack Obama’s memoir, gives us insight into what it was like to be the first black President of the United States. He starts with why he went into politics to begin with after college, due in large part to his frustration with not being able to make an impact on a larger scale for disenfranchised communities. He goes on speaking of his time as a Senator, Presidential candidate, then finally our President. And within those big professional achievements, he gifts us with moments from his childhood, his marriage to the fiercely loyal Michelle, and his greatest achievement of all: fatherhood.
You always hear that being President is a tough job, and we take that at face value. Of course, we know it must be hard because of the power it holds, but why is it really? You want to know the nitty gritty? Obama will tell you. Campaigning is tough. Some not so nice words can be exchanged, even when you are on the same team. Once you’re in office, he makes it clear that any issue that comes to the President is problematic, and could not have been resolved at a lower level of government. Everything is complicated, controversial, and/or exhausting. His dealing with foreign dignitaries was especially interesting because he knew he represented every single one of us, and that he often had to be tough and make people uncomfortable through spirited debate and diplomatic means to ensure America and our allies were heard. A tall order.
As for the politicians here at home, Obama doesn’t hold back with how the usual suspects on the other side of the aisle gave him the finger no matter how many times he extended his hand. Looking at you Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, and Chuck Grassley. Ya’ll basic. An interesting story Obama shares is about the time Biden was trying to make his case for a law to be passed, only for McConnell to look at him and say “you must think I care”. I point this out only because it brings me great joy to see that Biden is McConnell’s President now, and he has no choice but to listen, and care. But, I digress.
Much to the GOP’s chagrin, Obama didn’t give up despite their goal to make him a one term President. (And what kind of “goal” is that, anyway?) What resulted was leadership that repaired the economy, reduced unemployment, revived the auto industry, introduced necessary climate change regulations, gave us access to healthcare, and punished the monster who was the mastermind behind 9/11. This progress was all a struggle to implement because the previous administration had its focus on the wrong things, putting us behind in so many areas that required money and attention. Obama acknowledges that his own presidency was not perfect, and that no administration will ever be.
Obama struggled with decisions that involved military intervention, not because he didn’t understand the intricacies of carrying out missions, but because human loss is always a probability. And I think this is was a sincere concern for him, but one he made because he was up to the task. To think, he was criticized for visiting the soldiers at Walter Reed on a weekly basis by Fox News. We would come to miss his caring nature because once he left the White House, the Presidency was taken over by a “f*ck your feelings” mentality.
Obama has this uncanny ability to keep calm during what would have put many of us over the edge. The discrimination he endured (and still does) should give everyone pause. Because even on his worst days, he still stood strong and rarely acknowledged the total bullsh*t coming out of the GOP and its favorite network, Fox News. And should he have fought more? Would it have stopped the constant barrage of misinformation that snowballs when something is not worth acknowledging? I don’t know. I don’t think so. Because no matter what the issue is, the people who want to twist the narrative will find a way to do so. The inklings of the racial discord that erupted after his term was always present, both hidden and in plain sight, and there was no stopping it when we later got a leader who seemed to enjoy dividing our nation.
My favorite parts were when Obama spoke of the love for his mother and grandparents. And how much they shaped and impacted his life, so that yes, he developed an enduring respect for our promised land. I would be lying if I told you it doesn’t make me angry to know that his roots were ever called into question, when the reality was that he was raised by proud working Americans, who are now gone and unable defend his honor. What a gross example of taking advantage of a person’s loss.
Peppered in the pages of the memoir is the reminder that Obama is not too different from us. Yes, he was President. But he watches basketball, smokes when he is stressed out, curses when he’s pissed off, and is happiest when he is with his family (Bo and Sunny included). He never, not once, lost sight of the honor and privilege of his title. He was even embarrassed by all the nervous energy that surrounded his presence the moment in walked into a room. Obama had an appreciation for the employees in the White House, and acknowledged that many were people of color who he struggled to have clean up after him. His empathy extended to those in his administration, who worked the 16 hour days he did, but had a commute home, unlike him.
The book is over 700 pages long, and the audiobook is 29 hours. So, I can’t possibly cover everything, though I’d love to.
My recommendation is to listen to the audiobook, because he narrates it. And there are ways he phrases things that will make you laugh at loud, and only he can do it. Always the superior orator, you will have no issue sitting back and relaxing as you learn about the highest office in the land from a modern President who would still give you the shirt off his back, even if you voted against him.
I look forward to the second part of his memoir, as that will cover the end of his term, and his life today.
The Obama Presidency took backbone, determination, sacrifice, and the audacity to believe in change. But he did it. And for that, I am grateful. So, thanks Obama.
Rating: 5/5 stars ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️