Barack Obama — A Promised Land

Barack Obama sait écrire, et sait qu’il sait écrire. Sa prose est parfois ampoulée, voire précieuse, mais je crois que je préfère encore cela au style télégraphique des mémoires torchés par des prête-plume qui n’ont même pas réussi à devenir journalistes, p. 14 :

But the idea of America, the promise of America: this clung to with a stubbornness that surprised even me. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”—that was my America. The America Tocqueville wrote about, the countryside of Whitman and Thoreau, with no person my inferior or my better; the America of pioneers heading west in search of a better life or immigrants landing on Ellis Island, propelled by a yearning for freedom. It was the America of Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers, making dreams take flight, and Jackie Robinson stealing home. It was Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday at the Village Vanguard and Johnny Cash at Folsom State Prison—all those misfits who took the scraps that others overlooked or discarded and made beauty no one had seen before. It was the America of Lincoln at Gettysburg, and Jane Addams toiling in a Chicago settlement home, and weary GIs at Normandy, and Dr. King on the National Mall summoning courage in others and in himself. It was the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, crafted by flawed but brilliant thinkers who reasoned their way to a system at once sturdy and capable of change. An America that could explain me.

Reste que certains passages semblent trop bien écrits pour être vraiment sincères, comme si l’on pouvait ressentir l’épaisseur des réécritures ralentir la lecture, p. 71 :

Why would I put her through this? Was it just vanity? Or perhaps something darker—a raw hunger, a blind ambition wrapped in the gauzy language of service? Or was I still trying to prove myself worthy to a father who had abandoned me, live up to my mother’s starry-eyed expectations of her only son, and resolve whatever self-doubt remained from being born a child of mixed race? “It’s like you have a hole to fill,” Michelle had told me early in our marriage, after a stretch in which she’d watched me work myself to near exhaustion. “That’s why you can’t slow down.”

Et puis à la moitié du livre, p. 353, ce passage m’a fait bondir :

But I also realized that around the world, in places like Yemen and Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, the lives of millions of young men like those three dead Somalis (some of them boys, really, since the oldest pirate was believed to be nineteen) had been warped and stunted by desperation, ignorance, dreams of religious glory, the violence of their surroundings, or the schemes of older men. They were dangerous, these young men, often deliberately and casually cruel. Still, in the aggregate, at least, I wanted somehow to save them—send them to school, give them a trade, drain them of the hate that had been filling their heads. And yet the world they were a part of, and the machinery I commanded, more often had me killing them instead.

Comme si ces lignes pouvaient absoudre les renoncements d’un homme qui n’a jamais mérité son prix Nobel de la paix, le cynisme d’un commander-in-chief qui savait que ses drones tuaient des civils, la faiblesse d’un président qui n’a jamais combattu le complexe militaro-industriel. Qu’il est loin, le jeune candidat à l’investiture démocrate dont j’étudiais les discours pleins de verve en 2007 !

Notes

p. 114 :

Toot showed me how to balance a checkbook and resist buying stuff I didn’t need. She was the reason why, even in my most revolutionary moments as a young man, I could admire a well-run business and read the financial pages, and why felt compelled to disregard overly broad claims about the need to tear things up and remake society from whole cloth. She taught me the value of working hard and doing your best even when the work was unpleasant, and about fulfilling your responsibilities even when doing so was inconvenient. She taught me to marry pass with reason, to not get overly excited when life was going well, and to not get too down when it went badly.

L’importance des réseaux sociaux dans la victoire de Barack Obama, p. 130-131 :

What struck me as well was the growing role that technology played in our victories. The extraordinary youth of my team allowed us to embrace and refine the digital networks that Howard Dean’s campaign had set in motion four years earlier. Our status as upstarts forced us to trust, again and again, the energy and creativity of our internet-savvy volunteers. Millions of small donors were helping to fuel our operation, emailed links helped to spread our campaign messaging in ways that Big Media couldn’t, and new communities were forming among people who’d previously been isolated from one another. Coming out of Super Tuesday, I was inspired, imagining that I was glimpsing the future, a resurgence of bottom-up participation that could make our democracy work again. What I couldn’t fully appreciate yet was just how malleable this technology would prove to be; how quickly it would be absorbed by commercial interests and wielded by entrenched powers; how readily it could be used not to unify people but to distract or divide them; and how one day many of the same tools that had put me in the White House would be deployed in opposition to everything I stood for.

p. 228 :

Reverend Jakes wrapped up his sermon. The choir’s final song filled the sanctuary. No one beyond a handful of staffers knew of the terrorist threat. I hadn’t even told Michelle, not wanting to add to the day’s stress. No one had nuclear war or terrorism on their minds. No one except me. Scanning people in the pews—friends, family members, colleagues, some of whom caught my eye and smiled or waved with excitement—I realized this was now part of my job: maintaining an outward sense of normalcy, upholding for everyone the fiction that we live in a safe and orderly world, even as I stared down the dark hole of chance and prepared as best I could for the possibility that at any given moment on any given day chaos might break through.

p. 260 :

Not just by the GOP’s willingness to peddle half-truths or outright lies about the contents of the Recovery Act (the claim that we were planning to spend millions on a Mob Museum in Las Vegas, for example, or that Nancy Pelosi had included $30 million to save an endangered mouse), but by the willingness of the press to broadcast or publish these whoppers as straight news. With enough badgering from us, an outlet might eventually run a story that fact-checked Republican claims. Rarely, though, did the truth catch up to the initial headlines. Most Americans—already trained to believe that the government wasted money—didn’t have the time or inclination to keep up with the details of the legislative process or who was or wasn’t being reasonable in negotiations. All they heard was what the Washington press corps told them—that Democrats and Republicans were fighting again, politicians were splurging, and the new guy in the White House was doing nothing to change it.

p. 305 :

The thought nags at me. And yet even if it were possible for me to go back in time and get a do-over, I can’t say that I would make different choices. In the abstract, all the various alternatives and missed opportunities that the critics offer up sound plausible, simple plot points in a morality tale. But when you dig into the details, each of the options they propose—whether nationalization of the banks, or stretching the definitions of criminal statutes to prosecute banking executives, or simply letting a portion of the banking system collapse so as to avoid moral hazard—would have required a violence to the social order, a wrenching of political and economic norms, that almost certainly would have made things worse. Not worse for the wealthy and powerful, who always have a way of landing on their feet. Worse for the very folks I’d be purporting to save. Best-case scenario, the economy would have taken longer to recover, with more unemployment, more foreclosures, more business closures. Worst-case scenario, we might have tipped into a full-scale depression.

De la différence entre l’idéologie et la politique, p. 415 :

It wasn’t just that criticism from friends always stung the most. The carping carried immediate political consequences for Democrats. It confused our base (which, generally speaking, had no idea what the hell a public option was) and divided our caucus, making it tougher for us to line up the votes we’d need to get the healthcare bill across the finish line. It also ignored the fact that all the great social welfare advances in American history, including Social Security and Medicare, had started off incomplete and had been built upon gradually, over time. By preemptively spinning what could be a monumental, if imperfect, victory into a bitter defeat, the criticism contributed to a potential long-term demoralization of Democratic voters-otherwise known as the “What’s the point of voting if nothing ever changes?” syndrome—making it even harder for us to win elections and move progressive legislation forward in the future.

p. 437 :

To other people, though never directly to me, Gates would sometimes question my commitment to the war and the strategy I’d adopted back in March, no doubt attributing it to “politics” as well. It was hard for him to see that what he dismissed as politics was democracy as it was supposed to work—that our mission had to be defined not only by the need to defeat an enemy but by the need to make sure the country wasn’t bled dry in the process; that questions about spending hundreds of billions on missiles and forward operating bases rather than schools or healthcare for kids weren’t tangential to national security but central to it; that the sense of duty he felt so keenly toward the troops already deployed, his genuine, admirable desire that they be given every chance, might be matched by the passion and patriotism of those interested in limiting the number of young Americans placed in harm’s way.

p. 525 :

In other words, FDR understood that to be effective, governance couldn’t be so antiseptic that it set aside the basic stuff of politics: You had to sell your program, reward supporters, punch back against opponents, and amplify the facts that helped your cause while fudging the details that didn’t. I found myself wondering whether we’d somehow turned a virtue into a vice; whether, trapped in my own high-mindedness, I’d failed to tell the American people a story they could believe in; and whether, having ceded the political narrative to my critics, I was going to be able to wrest it back.

Le miroir déformant des caméras de télévision, p. 538 :

Puzzled by all this solicitude, I happened to mention it to Gibbs one day. He chuckled. “Let me tell you, boss,” he said, “if you watched cable news, you’d be worried about you too.” I knew what Gibbs was driving at: Once you became president, people’s perceptions of you—even the perceptions of those who knew you best—were inevitably shaped by the media. What I hadn’t fully appreciated, though, at least not until I scanned a few news broadcasts, was how the images producers used in stories about my administration had shifted of late. Back when we were riding high, toward the end of the campaign and the start of my presidency, most news footage showed me active and smiling, shaking hands or speaking in front of dramatic backdrops, my gestures and facial expressions exuding energy and command. Now that most of the stories were negative, a different version of me appeared: older-looking, walking alone along the colonnade or across the South Lawn to Marine One, my shoulders slumped, my eyes downcast, my face weary and creased with the burdens of the office.

L’individu et l’histoire, p. 634 :

Looking back, 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. I wonder whether our insecurities and our hopes, our childhood traumas or memories of unexpected kindness carry as much force as any technological shift or socioeconomic trend.

p. 653 :

In 2011, no one questioned our limited influence in Syria—that would come later. But despite multiple statements from my administration condemning the violence in Bahrain and efforts to broker a dialogue between the government and more moderate Shite opposition leaders, our failure to break with Hamad—especially in the wake of our posture toward Mubarak—was roundly criticized. I had no elegant way to explain the apparent inconsistency, other than to acknowledge that the world was messy; that in the conduct of foreign policy, had to constantly balance competing interests, interests shaped by the choices of previous administrations and the contingencies of the moment; and that just because I couldn’t in every instance elevate our human rights agenda over other considerations didn’t mean that I shouldn’t try to do what I could, when I could, to advance what considered to be America’s highest values. But what if a government starts massacring not hundreds of its citizens but thousands and the United States has the power to stop it? Then what?