A Promised Land: A Case for Optimism in Cynical Times


Dan Winters

Barack Obama was the 44th president of the United States. He writes about his first term in his newest book, A Promised Land.

Tal Dickman, Politics Editor

Four years in the making, Barack Obama’s “A Promised Land” is ever relevant, coming out in a time where many youths are gravitating towards cynicism. Speaking through the book in his distinctive prose, full of thoughtful, rich, and often defensive insight, Obama traces his own journey – reflecting on going from an idealistic and naive community organizer to the leader of the free world.

I really enjoyed this book and gained both inspiration and a renewed sense of urgency about the issues of our time: health care, poverty, climate change. But reading it, I felt that Obama was struggling to share the optimism he hoped to instill in his readers. I could almost see him writing – his exhausted frame stooped over a dimly lit desk and a small yellow notepad. A cup of cold, bitter tea forgotten. Putting his anguish, anger, and insight to paper.

His main source of frustration in the book comes from unyielding Republican obstructionism at every step of the legislative process. Obama explains that it prevented him from making idealistic reforms to the extent that he wanted to.

Obama explains how he is saddened by “how quickly Republican resistance hardened… how thoroughly that resistance colored the way the press and ultimately the public viewed the substance of our actions”.

This is a theme that Obama talks about throughout the book. He is frustrated that he cannot act on the idealism of his college years and becomes defensive when left-wing critics argue his policies are not radical enough because he has sold out to corporate interests – just like the administrations before him.

Beyond policy, he expresses worry that American politics has come to the point where bipartisanship and honest debate is impossible, a trend beginning with Sarah Palin’s nomination and the Tea Party.

“A Promised Land” is receiving widespread criticism as overly defensive – its main motivation to secure Obama’s legacy.

Obama explains that when progressive groups criticize him for not being radical enough, or moderate Republican peers criticize him for having too slow of an economic recovery, it is not his fault that idealism in modern politics is impossible.

While he is defensive and interested in protecting his legacy, it is not his main motivation for writing the book.

It’s written for America’s youth: A new generation sharing the idealistic worldview Obama had as a young community organizer in Chicago. It’s a plea to us to keep pragmatism in mind but to never lose the youthful urgency and optimism that has been the impetus behind every social movement.

“A Promised Land” is a must-read: it is thought through and well written; it sucks you in like a thriller, yet dives into the existential issues of our time.