For a portrait of our favorite, please read Jonathan Raban
in the current issue of the London Review of Books
For a tragic sense of life is exactly what has marked Obama’s candidacy from the beginning. His powerful memoir, Dreams from My Father, written in his early thirties, is shot through with that sense: its gravely intelligent, death-haunted tone, beautifully controlled throughout the book, is that of an old voice, not a young one – and the voice of the book is of a piece with the plangent, melancholy baritone to be heard on the campaign trail.
...His routine stump speech is built on the premise that America has become estranged from its own essential character; a country unhinged from its constitution, feared and disliked across the globe, engaged in a dumb and unjust war, its tax system skewed to help the rich get richer and the poor grow poorer, its economy in ‘shambles’, its politics ‘broken’.
...He courts his listeners, not as legions of the blissful, but as legions of the alienated, adrift in a country no longer recognisable as their own, and challenges them to emulate slaves in their struggle for emancipation, impoverished European immigrants seeking a new life on a far continent, and soldiers of the ‘greatest generation’ who volunteered to fight Fascism and Nazism. The extravagance of these similes is jarring – especially when they’re spoken by a writer as subtle and careful as Obama is on the printed page – but they serve to make the double point that America is in a desperate predicament and that only a great wave of communitarian action can salvage it.