Hello friends. This post is a collection of quotes from the book - A Promised Land by Barack Obama. A Promised Land is a riveting, deeply personal account of history in the making - from the president who inspired us to believe in the power of democracy.
If I were to travel back in time, I might urge the young man I was to set the books aside for a minute, open the windows, and let in some fresh air. I'd tell him to relax, go meet some people, and enjoy the pleasures that life reserves for those in their twenties.
I was almost forty, broke, coming off a humiliating defeat and with my marriage strained. I felt for perhaps the first time in my life that I had taken a wrong turn; that whatever reservoirs of energy and optimism I thought I had, whatever potential I'd always banked on, had been used up on a fool's errand. [...] I had become the very thing that, as a younger man, I had warned myself against. I had become a politician - and not a very good one at that.
The truth is, I've never been a big believer in destiny. I worry that it encourages resignation in the down-and-out and complacency among the powerful. I suspect that God's plan, whatever it is, works on a scale too large to admit our mortal tribulations; that in a single lifetime, accidents and happenstance determine more than we care to admit; and that the best we can do is to try to align ourselves with what we feel is right and construct some meaning out of our confusion, and with grace and nerve play at each moment the hand that we're dealt.
A viable presidential candidacy wasn't something you just fell into. Done right, it was a deeply strategic endeavor, built slowly and quietly over time, requiring not only confidence and conviction but also piles of money and enough commitment and goodwill from others to carry you through all fifty states and two straight years of primaries and caucuses.
There's no guarantee we can pull it off. Here's one thing I know for sure, though. I know that the day I raise my right hand and take the oath to be president of the United States, the world will start looking at America differently. I know that kids all around this country - Black kids, Hispanic kids, kids who don't fit in - they'll see themselves differently, too, their horizons lifted, their possibilities expanded. And that alone ... that would be worth it.
The minute you announced your candidacy for president, the normal rules of speech no longer applied; that microphones were everywhere, and every word coming out of your mouth was recorded, amplified, scrutinized, and dissected.
I was running for president not because it was owed to me or because I'd wanted to be president all my life, but because the times called for something new.
While there are moments in politics, as in life, when avoidance, if not retreat, is the better part of valor, there are other times when the only option is to steel yourself and go for broke.
I had asked something hard of the American people - to place their faith in a young and untested newcomer; not just a Black man, but someone whose very name evoked a life story that seemed unfamiliar. Repeatedly I'd given them cause not to support me. There'd been uneven debate performances, unconventional positions, clumsy gaffes, [...] And I'd faced an opponent who'd proven both her readiness and her mettle. Despite all that, they'd given me a chance. Through the noise and chatter of the political circus, they'd heard my call for something different. Even if I hadn't always been at my best, they'd divined what was best in me: the voice insisting that for all our differences, we remained bound as one people, and that, together, men and women of goodwill could find a way to a better future. I promised myself I would not let them down.
I'm not by nature a superstitious person. As a kid, I didn't have a lucky number or own a rabbit's foot. I didn't believe in ghosts or leprechauns, and while I might have made a wish when blowing out birthday candles or tossing a penny into a fountain, my mother had always been quick to remind me that there's a direct link between doing your work and having your wishes come true.
If you're the candidate, Election Day brings a surprising stillness. There are no more rallies or town halls. TV and radio ads no longer matter; newscasts have nothing of substance to report. Campaign offices empty as staff and volunteers hit the streets to help turn out voters. Across the country millions of strangers step behind a black curtain to register their policy preferences and private instincts, as some mysterious collective alchemy determines the country's fate-and your own. The realization is obvious but also profound: It's out of your hands now. Pretty much all you can do is wait.
No matter what you might tell yourself, no matter how much you've read or how many briefings you've received or how many veterans of previous administrations you've recruited, nothing entirely prepares you for those first weeks in the White House. Everything is new, unfamiliar, fraught with import.
No problem that landed on my desk, foreign or domestic, had a clean, 100 percent solution. If it had, someone else down the chain of command would have solved it already. Instead, I was constantly dealing with probabilities: a 70 percent chance, say, that a decision to do nothing would end in disaster; a 55 percent chance that this approach versus that one might solve the problem; a 30 percent chance that whatever we chose wouldn't work at all, along with a 15 percent chance that it would make the problem worse.
That was another lesson the presidency was teaching me: Sometimes it didn't matter how good your process was. Sometimes you were just screwed, and the best you could do was have a stiff drink - and light up a cigarette.
Every president felt saddled with the previous administration's choices and mistakes, that 90 percent of the job was navigating inherited problems and unanticipated crises. Only if you did that well enough, with discipline and purpose, did you get a real shot at shaping the future.
To see ordinary people sloughing off fear and habit to act on their deepest beliefs, to see young people risking everything just to have a say in their own lives, to try to strip the world of the old cruelties, hierarchies, divisions, falsehoods, and injustices that cramped the human spirit - that, I had realized, was what I believed in and longed to be a part of.
Even those on the right side of war must not turn away from their enemy's suffering, or foreclose the possibility of reconciliation.
Our history has always been the sum total of the choices made and the actions taken by each individual man and woman. It has always been up to us.
To be known. To be heard. To have one's unique identity recognized and seen as worthy. It was a universal human desire, I thought, as true for nations and peoples as it was for individuals. If I understood that basic truth more than some of my predecessors, perhaps it was because I'd spent a big chunk of my childhood abroad and had family in places long considered "backward" and "underdeveloped." Or maybe it was because as an African American, I'd experienced what it was like not to be fully seen inside my own country.
Putin did, in fact, remind me of the sorts of men who had once run the Chicago machine or Tammany Hall - tough, street smart, unsentimental characters who knew what they knew, who never moved outside their narrow experiences, and who viewed patronage, bribery, shakedowns, fraud, and occasional violence as legitimate tools of the trade. For them, as for Putin, life was a zero-sum game; you might do business with those outside your tribe, but in the end, you couldn't trust them. You looked out for yourself first and then for your own.
For Wen and the rest of China's leaders, foreign policy remained purely transactional. How much they gave and how much they got would depend not on abstract principles of international law but on their assessment of the other side's power and leverage. Where they met no resistance, they'd keep on taking.
The Presidency changes your time horizons. Rarely do your efforts bear fruit right away; the scale of most problems coming across your desk is too big for that, the factors at play too varied. You learn to measure progress in smaller steps - each of which may take months to accomplish, none of which merit much public notice - and to reconcile yourself to the knowledge that your ultimate goal, if ever achieved, may take a year or two or even a full term to realize.
It's in the nature of politics, and certainly the presidency, to go through rough patches - times when, because of a boneheaded mistake, an unforeseen circumstance, a sound but unpopular decision, or a failure to communicate, the headlines turn sour and the public finds you wanting. Usually this lasts for a couple of weeks, maybe a month, before the press loses interest in smacking you around, either because you fixed the problem, or you expressed contrition, or you chalked up a win, or something deemed more important pushes you off the front page.
This was all any of us could expect from democracy, especially in big, multiethnic, multireligious societies like India and the United States. Not revolutionary leaps or major cultural overhauls; not a fix for every social pathology or lasting answers for those in search of purpose and meaning in their lives. Just the observance of rules that allowed us to sort out or at least tolerate our differences, and government policies that raised living standards and improved education enough to temper humanity's baser impulses.
I sometimes ponder the age-old question of how much difference the particular characteristics of individual leaders make in the sweep of history - whether those of us who rise to power are mere conduits for the deep, relentless currents of the times or whether we're at least partly the authors of what's to come.
The U.S. government's an ocean liner. Not a speedboat.
There are moments in history where just because things have been the same way in the past doesn't mean they will be the same way in the future.