Obama: From Promise to Power, by David Mendell
(Click for Amazon book review)
BOOK REVIEW by OnTheIssues.org:
This book, published in August 2007, is a general review of Obama's career by a Chicago reporter who has been following Obama's career since the State Senate days. Reporters tend to write analytical books that explore the candidate's background, and local reporters tend to expose parts of the candidate's background which the national audience is unaware of. This book accomplishes both of those -- as such, it's the first unbiased biography for this campaign season -- although more are sure to follow.
This book is mostly a critique of Dreams From My Father (Obama's biography). Therefore it's the same type of book for Obama as A Woman in Charge and Her Way is for Hillary Clinton (those two books reviewed in detail Hillary's biography, Living History).
The two Hillary analyses were met with a large-scale book tour, and massive press attention -- but this book about Obama was not. I suppose that reflects that, in 2007, Hillary's winning the Democratic primary seemed inevitable. Now that the inevitably is shattered, you can be a well-informed voter by comparing this book with the two Hillary analyses.
The author of this book, David Mendell, has been a Chicago Tribune reporter since 1998, before Obama's rise to national celebrity.
Here is an excerpt that expresses Mendell's core viewpoint about Obama's rise, and explains, in Mendell's view, why Obama has become so much more personally popular than Hillary:
We'll let our excerpts and the author's own self-description say the rest -- here is an excerpt that exemplifies the author's attitude towards Obama:
"Obama was, in his own words, "a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views," or that the higher he soared, the more this politician spoke in well-worn platitudes and the more he offered warm, feel-good sentiments lacking a precise framework."
I attended that same speech, with an OnTheIssues.org press pass to the convention, and I shared Mendell's skeptical viewpoint that day. Most of the convention delegates were predicting that this guy, a barely-known not-quite-elected Senator, would show his stuff and would be a likely contender for president, while the reporters withheld judgement to wait and see how he did before his first national audience.
I watched Obama's speech from the press box, just a few feet behind his right shoulder, and I was not very impressed -- mostly because I could barely hear what he was saying over the roaring crowd. Obama's staff delivered the speech transcript to those in the press box, and reading along with Obama was the only way I could follow the speech at all. I left the convention feeling that the DELEGATES sure loved him, but I suspected that the VOTERS would feel more like I did.
Page 12, About Obama's 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention:
"Having covered Obama for the Chicago Tribune since the early days of his U.S. candidacy more than nine months before, I had already established a rapport with the senator, and I was mostly trying to stay out of the way and watch the day unfold, watch the story of Barack Obama unfurl. Still, as a skeptical newspaper reporter, I was not completely convinced that, by day's end, all would come out well. I was still trying to gauge if this strut was something of an act, whether his winning free throw would clang on the rim and bounce away or whether he was on the verge of hitting nothing but net and making a national name for himself."
Then I got home, to my roommate all aglow -- "Did you see His speech?" (one could hear the capital H). "He's definitely running for president! And he's definitely going to win!"
My roommate was just a regular voter, not a ga-ga delegate at all -- so I watched the recorded speech on television with him, to try to understand his perspective.
Live, Obama started each sentence while the crowd was still applauding his previous sentence -- talking over the roar of the crowd, making his speech unheard by the crowd.
On TV, Obama started each sentence just as the crowd's roar was starting to die down -- because the directional TV microphones picked up Obama more than they picked up the crowd.
The timing and delivery felt perfect on TV; live, the delivery felt rushed and like the audience was ignored.
The TV version was indeed a brilliant speech. The live version was not.
That's Obama's greatest strength -- he knows how to deliver a speech so that the emotion of the speech is felt by the audience.
Obama knew that the REAL audience for this speech was the millions of people on TV, not the thousands in the convention hall, and certainly not the mere hundreds in the press box.
And he "hit nothing but net" with the voters, if not the press.
That speech is how Obama became nationally known -- and hence provides the reason this book became possible, and the reason Obama's presidential campaign became possible.
So read this book with the understanding that the press don't always get it like the voters do!
--Jesse Gordon, firstname.lastname@example.org, April 2008
Click here for 35 full quotes from Barack Obama in the book From Promise to Power, by David Mendell.
OR click on an issue category below for a subset.
Budget & Economy|
Government regulation needed for when markets fail.
1980s boss predicted Obama would be heir to MLK’s voice.
Blacks should infiltrate mainstream to affect change.
Works on ex-offender laws because it could have been him.
Experimented with cocaine but turned down heroin.
A “secret smoker”, especially around reporters.
1985: Organized asbestos removal in Chicago housing project.
Passed lead abatement & 24 other laws in IL Senate.
At college, protested for divestment from South Africa.
Increased aid to Republic of Congo.
Visited largest slum in Africa, to publicize its plight.
1998: First law passed, 52-4, stripping legislator perks.
2004: Used state money for seemingly political mailing.
Concealed carry OK for retired police officers.
2005: Passed bill to reduce conventional weapon stockpiles.
Principles & Values|
Goal as youth: Leave the world a better place.
Planned on presidency since well before 2004 Convention.
Seen as both critical outsider and establishment insider.
Dreams from My Father originally about Harvard Law Review.
Favorite authors: E. L. Doctorow & Shakespeare.
To understand Obama, understand Hawaii’s cultural mix.
Father was first African exchange student at U. Hawaii.
High school jock--played football as defensive lineman.
Carries Bible on campaign trail, & refers to it weekly.
1990: Elected Law Review president with conservative support.
Met Michelle Robinson at law firm; married in 1990.
State Senate opponents disqualified on technicality.
Lost campaign for US Congress against Bobby Rush in 2000.
Senate 2004 campaign theme: “Yes we can”.
2004: Won Senate seat against Alan Keyes, 70%-29%.
The Plan: Raise Obama’s profile, including African adventure.
As Senate freshman spoke out on Katrina ramifications.
Welfare & Poverty|
Saw dire poverty as a child in Indonesia.
1985: Launched project to give voice to disempowered.
Ownership Society is another term for “Social Darwinism”.
The above quotations are from Obama: From Promise to Power, by David Mendell.