[Ebooks] Barack Obama: The Audacity Of Hope (Part 2)

Oct 9th, 2012
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  1. THIS IS NOT to say that I’m unanchored in my faith. There are some things that I’m
  2. absolutely sure about—the Golden Rule, the need to battle cruelty in all its forms, the
  3. value of love and charity, humility and grace.
  5. Those beliefs were driven home two years ago when I flew down to Birmingham,
  6. Alabama, to deliver a speech at the city’s Civil Rights Institute. The institute is right
  7. across the street from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, the site where, in 1963, four
  8. young children—Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Denise
  9. McNair—lost their lives when a bomb planted by white supremacists exploded during
  10. Sunday school, and before my talk I took the opportunity to visit the church. The young
  12. pastor and several deacons greeted me at the door and showed me the still-visible scar
  13. along the wall where the bomb went off. I saw the clock at the back of the church, still
  14. frozen at 10:22 a.m. I studied the portraits of the four little girls.
  16. After the tour, the pastor, deacons, and I held hands and said a prayer in the sanctuary.
  17. Then they left me to sit in one of the pews and gather my thoughts. What must it have
  18. been like for those parents forty years ago, I wondered, knowing that their precious
  19. daughters had been snatched away by violence at once so casual and so vicious? How
  20. could they endure the anguish unless they were certain that some purpose lay behind
  21. their children’s murders, that some meaning could be found in immeasurable loss?
  22. Those parents would have seen the mourners pour in from all across the nation, would
  23. have read the condolences from across the globe, would have watched as Lyndon
  24. Johnson announced on national television that the time had come to overcome, would
  25. have seen Congress finally pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Friends and strangers
  26. alike would have assured them that their daughters had not died in vain—that they had
  27. awakened the conscience of a nation and helped liberate a people; that the bomb had
  28. burst a dam to let justice roll down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.
  29. And yet would even that knowledge be enough to console your grief, to keep you from
  30. madness and eternal rage—unless you also knew that your child had gone on to a better
  31. place?
  33. My thoughts turned to my mother and her final days, after cancer had spread through
  34. her body and it was clear that there was no coming back. She had admitted to me during
  35. the course of her illness that she was not ready to die; the suddenness of it all had taken
  36. her by surprise, as if the physical world she loved so much had turned on her, betrayed
  37. her. And although she fought valiantly, endured the pain and chemotherapy with grace
  38. and good humor to the very end, more than once I saw fear flash across her eyes. More
  39. than fear of pain or fear of the unknown, it was the sheer loneliness of death that
  40. frightened her, I think—the notion that on this final journey, on this last adventure, she
  41. would have no one to fully share her experiences with, no one who could marvel with
  42. her at the body’s capacity to inflict pain on itself, or laugh at the stark absurdity of life
  43. once one’s hair starts falling out and one’s salivary glands shut down.
  45. I carried such thoughts with me as I left the church and made my speech. Later that
  46. night, back home in Chicago, I sat at the dinner table, watching Malia and Sasha as they
  47. laughed and bickered and resisted their string beans before their mother chased them up
  48. the stairs and to their baths. Alone in the kitchen washing the dishes, I imagined my two
  49. girls growing up, and I felt the ache that every parent must feel at one time or another,
  50. that desire to snatch up each moment of your child’s presence and never let go—to
  51. preserve every gesture, to lock in for all eternity the sight of their curls or the feel of
  52. their fingers clasped around yours. I thought of Sasha asking me once what happened
  53. when we die—“I don’t want to die, Daddy,” she had added matter-of-factly—and I had
  54. hugged her and said, “You’ve got a long, long way before you have to worry about
  55. that,” which had seemed to satisfy her. I wondered whether I should have told her the
  56. truth, that I wasn’t sure what happens when we die, any more than I was sure of where
  57. the soul resides or what existed before the Big Bang. Walking up the stairs, though, I
  58. knew what I hoped for—that my mother was together in some way with those four little
  59. girls, capable in some fashion of embracing them, of finding joy in their spirits.
  61. I know that tucking in my daughters that night, I grasped a little bit of heaven.
  63. Chapter Seven
  65. Race
  67. THE FUNERAL WAS held in a big church, a gleaming, geometric structure spread
  68. out over ten well-manicured acres. Reputedly, it had cost $35 million to build, and
  69. every dollar showed—there was a banquet hall, a conference center, a 1,200-car parking
  70. lot, a state-of-the-art sound system, and a TV production facility with digital editing
  71. equipment.
  73. Inside the church sanctuary, some four thousand mourners had already gathered, most
  74. of them African American, many of them professionals of one sort or another: doctors,
  75. lawyers, accountants, educators, and real estate brokers. On the stage, senators,
  76. governors, and captains of industry mingled with black leaders like Jesse Jackson, John
  77. Lewis, Al Sharpton, and T. D. Jakes. Outside, under a bright October sun, thousands
  78. more stood along the quiet streets: elderly couples, solitary men, young women with
  79. strollers, some waving to the motorcades that occasionally passed, others standing in
  80. quiet contemplation, all of them waiting to pay their final respects to the diminutive,
  81. gray-haired woman who lay in the casket within.
  83. The choir sang; the pastor said an opening prayer. Former President Bill Clinton rose to
  84. speak, and began to describe what it had been like for him as a white Southern boy to
  85. ride in segregated buses, how the civil rights movement that Rosa Parks helped spark
  86. had liberated him and his white neighbors from their own bigotry. Clinton’s ease with
  87. his black audience, their almost giddy affection for him, spoke of reconciliation, of
  88. forgiveness, a partial mending of the past’s grievous wounds.
  90. In many ways, seeing a man who was both the former leader of the free world and a son
  91. of the South acknowledge the debt he owed a black seamstress was a fitting tribute to
  92. the legacy of Rosa Parks. Indeed, the magnificent church, the multitude of black elected
  93. officials, the evident prosperity of so many of those in attendance, and my own presence
  94. onstage as a United States senator—all of it could be traced to that December day in
  95. 1955 when, with quiet determination and unruffled dignity, Mrs. Parks had refused to
  96. surrender her seat on a bus. In honoring Rosa Parks, we honored others as well, the
  97. thousands of women and men and children across the South whose names were absent
  98. from the history books, whose stories had been lost in the slow eddies of time, but
  99. whose courage and grace had helped liberate a people.
  101. And yet, as I sat and listened to the former President and the procession of speakers that
  102. followed, my mind kept wandering back to the scenes of devastation that had dominated
  103. the news just two months earlier, when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast and
  104. New Orleans was submerged. I recalled images of teenage mothers weeping or cursing
  105. in front of the New Orleans Superdome, their listless infants hoisted to their hips, and
  106. old women in wheelchairs, heads lolled back from the heat, their withered legs exposed
  107. under soiled dresses. I thought about the news footage of a solitary body someone had
  108. laid beside a wall, motionless beneath the flimsy dignity of a blanket; and the scenes of
  109. shirtless young men in sagging pants, their legs churning through the dark waters, their
  110. arms draped with whatever goods they had managed to grab from nearby stores, the
  111. spark of chaos in their eyes.
  113. I had been out of the country when the hurricane first hit the Gulf, on my way back
  114. from a trip to Russia. One week after the initial tragedy, though, I traveled to Houston,
  115. joining Bill and Hillary Clinton, as well as George H. W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, as
  116. they announced fund-raising efforts on behalf of the hurricane’s victims and visited
  117. with some of the twenty-five thousand evacuees who were now sheltered in the Houston
  118. Astrodome and adjoining Reliant Center.
  120. The city of Houston had done an impressive job setting up emergency facilities to
  121. accommodate so many people, working with the Red Cross and FEMA to provide them
  122. with food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. But as we walked along the rows of cots
  123. that now lined the Reliant Center, shaking hands, playing with children, listening to
  124. people’s stories, it was obvious that many of Katrina’s survivors had been abandoned
  125. long before the hurricane struck. They were the faces of any inner-city neighborhood in
  126. any American city, the faces of black poverty—the jobless and almost jobless, the sick
  127. and soon to be sick, the frail and the elderly. A young mother talked about handing off
  128. her children to a bus full of strangers. Old men quietly described the houses they had
  129. lost and the absence of any insurance or family to fall back on. A group of young men
  130. insisted that the levees had been blown up by those who wished to rid New Orleans of
  131. black people. One tall, gaunt woman, looking haggard in an Astros T-shirt two sizes too
  132. big, clutched my arm and pulled me toward her.
  134. “We didn’t have nothin’ before the storm,” she whispered. “Now we got less than
  135. nothin’.”
  137. In the days that followed, I returned to Washington and worked the phones, trying to
  138. secure relief supplies and contributions. In Senate Democratic Caucus meetings, my
  139. colleagues and I discussed possible legislation. I appeared on the Sunday morning news
  140. shows, rejecting the notion that the Administration had acted slowly because Katrina’s
  141. victims were black—“the incompetence was color-blind,” I said—but insisting that the
  142. Administration’s inadequate planning showed a degree of remove from, and
  143. indifference toward, the problems of inner-city poverty that had to be addressed. Late
  144. one afternoon we joined Republican senators in what the Bush Administration deemed a
  145. classified briefing on the federal response. Almost the entire Cabinet was there, along
  146. with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and for an hour Secretaries Chertoff, Rumsfeld,
  147. and the rest bristled with confidence—and displayed not the slightest bit of remorse—as
  148. they recited the number of evacuations made, military rations distributed, National
  149. Guard troops deployed. A few nights later, we watched President Bush in that eerie,
  150. floodlit square, acknowledging the legacy of racial injustice that the tragedy had helped
  151. expose and proclaiming that New Orleans would rise again.
  153. And now, sitting at the funeral of Rosa Parks, nearly two months after the storm, after
  154. the outrage and shame that Americans across the country had felt during the crisis, after
  155. the speeches and emails and memos and caucus meetings, after television specials and
  156. essays and extended newspaper coverage, it felt as if nothing had happened. Cars
  157. remained on rooftops. Bodies were still being discovered. Stories drifted back from the
  158. Gulf that the big contractors were landing hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of
  159. contracts, circumventing prevailing wage and affirmative action laws, hiring illegal
  160. immigrants to keep their costs down. The sense that the nation had reached a
  161. transformative moment—that it had had its conscience stirred out of a long slumber and
  162. would launch a renewed war on poverty—had quickly died away.
  164. Instead, we sat in church, eulogizing Rosa Parks, reminiscing about past victories,
  165. entombed in nostalgia. Already, legislation was moving to place a statue of Mrs. Parks
  166. under the Capitol dome. There would be a commemorative stamp bearing her likeness,
  167. and countless streets, schools, and libraries across America would no doubt bear her
  168. name. I wondered what Rosa Parks would make of all of this—whether stamps or
  169. statues could summon her spirit, or whether honoring her memory demanded something
  170. more.
  172. I thought about what that woman in Houston had whispered to me, and wondered how
  173. we might be judged, in those days after the levee broke.
  177. WHEN I MEET people for the first time, they sometimes quote back to me a line in my
  178. speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention that seemed to strike a chord:
  179. “There is not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian
  180. America—there’s the United States of America.” For them, it seems to capture a vision
  181. of America finally freed from the past of Jim Crow and slavery, Japanese internment
  182. camps and Mexican braceros, workplace tensions and cultural conflict—an America
  183. that fulfills Dr. King’s promise that we be judged not by the color of our skin but by the
  184. content of our character.
  186. In a sense I have no choice but to believe in this vision of America. As the child of a
  187. black man and a white woman, someone who was born in the racial melting pot of
  188. Hawaii, with a sister who’s half Indonesian but who’s usually mistaken for Mexican or
  189. Puerto Rican, and a brother-in-law and niece of Chinese descent, with some blood
  190. relatives who resemble Margaret Thatcher and others who could pass for Bernie Mac,
  191. so that family get-togethers over Christmas take on the appearance of a UN General
  192. Assembly meeting, I’ve never had the option of restricting my loyalties on the basis of
  193. race, or measuring my worth on the basis of tribe.
  195. Moreover, I believe that part of America’s genius has always been its ability to absorb
  196. newcomers, to forge a national identity out of the disparate lot that arrived on our
  197. shores. In this we’ve been aided by a Constitution that—despite being marred by the
  198. original sin of slavery—has at its very core the idea of equal citizenship under the law;
  199. and an economic system that, more than any other, has offered opportunity to all
  200. comers, regardless of status or title or rank. Of course, racism and nativist sentiments
  201. have repeatedly undermined these ideals; the powerful and the privileged have often
  202. exploited or stirred prejudice to further their own ends. But in the hands of reformers,
  203. from Tubman to Douglass to Chavez to King, these ideals of equality have gradually
  204. shaped how we understand ourselves and allowed us to form a multicultural nation the
  205. likes of which exists nowhere else on earth.
  207. Finally, those lines in my speech describe the demographic realities of America’s future.
  208. Already, Texas, California, New Mexico, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia are
  209. majority minority. Twelve other states have populations that are more than a third
  210. Latino, black, and/or Asian. Latino Americans now number forty-two million and are
  211. the fastest-growing demographic group, accounting for almost half of the nation’s
  212. population growth between 2004 and 2005; the Asian American population, though far
  213. smaller, has experienced a similar surge and is expected to increase by more than 200
  215. percent over the next forty-five years. Shortly after 2050, experts project, America will
  216. no longer be a majority white country—with consequences for our economics, our
  217. politics, and our culture that we cannot fully anticipate.
  219. Still, when I hear commentators interpreting my speech to mean that we have arrived at
  220. a “postracial politics” or that we already live in a color-blind society, I have to offer a
  221. word of caution. To say that we are one people is not to suggest that race no longer
  222. matters—that the fight for equality has been won, or that the problems that minorities
  223. face in this country today are largely self-inflicted. We know the statistics: On almost
  224. every single socioeconomic indicator, from infant mortality to life expectancy to
  225. employment to home ownership, black and Latino Americans in particular continue to
  226. lag far behind their white counterparts. In corporate boardrooms across America,
  227. minorities are grossly underrepresented; in the United States Senate, there are only three
  228. Latinos and two Asian members (both from Hawaii), and as I write today I am the
  229. chamber’s sole African American. To suggest that our racial attitudes play no part in
  230. these disparities is to turn a blind eye to both our history and our experience—and to
  231. relieve ourselves of the responsibility to make things right.
  233. Moreover, while my own upbringing hardly typifies the African American experience—
  234. and although, largely through luck and circumstance, I now occupy a position that
  235. insulates me from most of the bumps and bruises that the average black man must
  236. endure—I can recite the usual litany of petty slights that during my forty-five years have
  237. been directed my way: security guards tailing me as I shop in department stores, white
  238. couples who toss me their car keys as I stand outside a restaurant waiting for the valet,
  239. police cars pulling me over for no apparent reason. I know what it’s like to have people
  240. tell me I can’t do something because of my color, and I know the bitter swill of
  241. swallowed-back anger. I know as well that Michelle and I must be continually vigilant
  242. against some of the debilitating story lines that our daughters may absorb—from TV
  243. and music and friends and the streets—about who the world thinks they are, and what
  244. the world imagines they should be.
  246. To think clearly about race, then, requires us to see the world on a split screen—to
  247. maintain in our sights the kind of America that we want while looking squarely at
  248. America as it is, to acknowledge the sins of our past and the challenges of the present
  249. without becoming trapped in cynicism or despair. I have witnessed a profound shift in
  250. race relations in my lifetime. I have felt it as surely as one feels a change in the
  251. temperature. When I hear some in the black community deny those changes, I think it
  252. not only dishonors those who struggled on our behalf but also robs us of our agency to
  253. complete the work they began. But as much as I insist that things have gotten better, I
  254. am mindful of this truth as well: Better isn’t good enough.
  262. MY CAMPAIGN for the U.S. Senate indicates some of the changes that have taken
  263. place in both the white and black communities of Illinois over the past twenty-five
  264. years. By the time I ran, Illinois already had a history of blacks elected to statewide
  266. office, including a black state comptroller and attorney general (Roland Burris), a
  267. United States senator (Carol Moseley Braun), and a sitting secretary of state, Jesse
  268. White, who had been the state’s leading vote-getter only two years earlier. Because of
  269. the pioneering success of these public officials, my own campaign was no longer a
  270. novelty—I might not have been favored to win, but the fact of my race didn’t foreclose
  271. the possibility.
  273. Moreover, the types of voters who ultimately gravitated to my campaign defied the
  274. conventional wisdom. On the day I announced my candidacy for the U.S. Senate, for
  275. example, three of my white state senate colleagues showed up to endorse me. They
  276. weren’t what we in Chicago call “Lakefront Liberals”—the so-called Volvo-driving,
  277. latte-sipping, white-wine-drinking Democrats that Republicans love to poke fun at and
  278. might be expected to embrace a lost cause such as mine. Instead, they were three
  279. middle-aged, working-class guys—Terry Link of Lake County, Denny Jacobs of the
  280. Quad Cities, and Larry Walsh of Will County—all of whom represented mostly white,
  281. mostly working-class or suburban communities outside Chicago.
  283. It helped that these men knew me well; the four of us had served together in Springfield
  284. during the previous seven years and had maintained a weekly poker game whenever we
  285. were in session. It also helped that each of them prided himself on his independence,
  286. and was therefore willing to stick with me despite pressure from more favored white
  287. candidates.
  289. But it wasn’t just our personal relationships that led them to support me (although the
  290. strength of my friendships with these men—all of whom grew up in neighborhoods and
  291. at a time in which hostility toward blacks was hardly unusual—itself said something
  292. about the evolution of race relations). Senators Link, Jacobs, and Walsh are hard-nosed,
  293. experienced politicians; they had no interest in backing losers or putting their own
  294. positions at risk. The fact was, they all thought that I’d “sell” in their districts—once
  295. their constituents met me and could get past the name.
  297. They didn’t make such a judgment blind. For seven years they had watched me interact
  298. with their constituents, in the state capitol or on visits to their districts. They had seen
  299. white mothers hand me their children for pictures and watched white World War II vets
  300. shake my hand after I addressed their convention. They sensed what I’d come to know
  301. from a lifetime of experience: that whatever preconceived notions white Americans may
  302. continue to hold, the overwhelming majority of them these days are able—if given the
  303. time—to look beyond race in making their judgments of people.
  305. This isn’t to say that prejudice has vanished. None of us—black, white, Latino, or
  306. Asian—is immune to the stereotypes that our culture continues to feed us, especially
  307. stereotypes about black criminality, black intelligence, or the black work ethic. In
  308. general, members of every minority group continue to be measured largely by the
  309. degree of our assimilation—how closely speech patterns, dress, or demeanor conform to
  310. the dominant white culture—and the more that a minority strays from these external
  311. markers, the more he or she is subject to negative assumptions. If an internalization of
  312. antidiscrimination norms over the past three decades—not to mention basic decency—
  313. prevents most whites from consciously acting on such stereotypes in their daily
  314. interactions with persons of other races, it’s unrealistic to believe that these stereotypes
  315. don’t have some cumulative impact on the often snap decisions of who’s hired and
  317. who’s promoted, on who’s arrested and who’s prosecuted, on how you feel about the
  318. customer who just walked into your store or about the demographics of your children’s
  319. school.
  321. I maintain, however, that in today’s America such prejudices are far more loosely held
  322. than they once were—and hence are subject to refutation. A black teenage boy walking
  323. down the street may elicit fear in a white couple, but if he turns out to be their son’s
  324. friend from school he may be invited over for dinner. A black man may have trouble
  325. catching a cab late at night, but if he is a capable software engineer Microsoft will have
  326. no qualms about hiring him.
  328. I cannot prove these assertions; surveys of racial attitudes are notoriously unreliable.
  329. And even if I’m right, it’s cold comfort to many minorities. After all, spending one’s
  330. days refuting stereotypes can be a wearying business. It’s the added weight that many
  331. minorities, especially African Americans, so often describe in their daily round—the
  332. feeling that as a group we have no store of goodwill in America’s accounts, that as
  333. individuals we must prove ourselves anew each day, that we will rarely get the benefit
  334. of the doubt and will have little margin for error. Making a way through such a world
  335. requires the black child to fight off the additional hesitation that she may feel when she
  336. stands at the threshold of a mostly white classroom on the first day of school; it requires
  337. the Latina woman to fight off self-doubt as she prepares for a job interview at a mostly
  338. white company.
  340. Most of all, it requires fighting off the temptation to stop making the effort. Few
  341. minorities can isolate themselves entirely from white society—certainly not in the way
  342. that whites can successfully avoid contact with members of other races. But it is
  343. possible for minorities to pull down the shutters psychologically, to protect themselves
  344. by assuming the worst. “Why should I have to make the effort to disabuse whites of
  345. their ignorance about us?” I’ve had some blacks tell me. “We’ve been trying for three
  346. hundred years, and it hasn’t worked yet.”
  348. To which I suggest that the alternative is surrender—to what has been instead of what
  349. might be.
  351. One of the things I value most in representing Illinois is the way it has disrupted my
  352. own assumptions about racial attitudes. During my Senate campaign, for example, I
  353. traveled with Illinois’s senior senator, Dick Durbin, on a thirty-nine-city tour of
  354. southern Illinois. One of our scheduled stops was a town called Cairo, at the very
  355. southern tip of the state, where the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers meet, a town made
  356. famous during the late sixties and early seventies as the site of some of the worst racial
  357. conflict anywhere outside of the Deep South. Dick had first visited Cairo during this
  358. period, when as a young attorney working for then Lieutenant Governor Paul Simon, he
  359. had been sent to investigate what might be done to lessen the tensions there. As we
  360. drove down to Cairo, Dick recalled that visit: how, upon his arrival, he’d been warned
  361. not to use the telephone in his motel room because the switchboard operator was a
  362. member of the White Citizens Council; how white store owners had closed their
  363. businesses rather than succumb to boycotters’ demands to hire blacks; how black
  364. residents told him of their efforts to integrate the schools, their fear and frustration, the
  365. stories of lynching and jailhouse suicides, shootings and riots.
  367. By the time we pulled into Cairo, I didn’t know what to expect. Although it was
  368. midday, the town felt abandoned, a handful of stores open along the main road, a few
  369. elderly couples coming out of what appeared to be a health clinic. Turning a corner, we
  370. arrived at a large parking lot, where a crowd of a couple of hundred were milling about.
  371. A quarter of them were black, almost all the rest white.
  373. They were all wearing blue buttons that read OBAMA FOR U.S. SENATE.
  375. Ed Smith, a big, hearty guy who was the Midwest regional manager of the Laborers’
  376. International Union and who’d grown up in Cairo, strode up to our van with a big grin
  377. on his face.
  379. “Welcome,” he said, shaking our hands as we got off the bus. “Hope you’re hungry,
  380. ’cause we got a barbecue going and my mom’s cooking.”
  382. I don’t presume to know exactly what was in the minds of the white people in the crowd
  383. that day. Most were my age and older and so would at least have remembered, if not
  384. been a direct part of, those grimmer days thirty years before. No doubt many of them
  385. were there because Ed Smith, one of the most powerful men in the region, wanted them
  386. to be there; others may have been there for the food, or just to see the spectacle of a U.S.
  387. senator and a candidate for the Senate campaign in their town.
  389. I do know that the barbecue was terrific, the conversation spirited, the people seemingly
  390. glad to see us. For an hour or so we ate, took pictures, and listened to people’s concerns.
  391. We discussed what might be done to restart the area’s economy and get more money
  392. into the schools; we heard about sons and daughters on their way to Iraq and the need to
  393. tear down an old hospital that had become a blight on downtown. And by the time we
  394. left, I felt a relationship had been established between me and the people I’d met—
  395. nothing transformative, but perhaps enough to weaken some of our biases and reinforce
  396. some of our better impulses. In other words, a quotient of trust had been built.
  398. Of course, such trust between the races is often tentative. It can wither without a
  399. sustaining effort. It may last only so long as minorities remain quiescent, silent to
  400. injustice; it can be blown asunder by a few well-timed negative ads featuring white
  401. workers displaced by affirmative action, or the news of a police shooting of an unarmed
  402. black or Latino youth.
  404. But I also believe that moments like the one in Cairo ripple from their immediate point:
  405. that people of all races carry these moments into their homes and places of worship; that
  406. such moments shade a conversation with their children or their coworkers and can wear
  407. down, in slow, steady waves, the hatred and suspicion that isolation breeds.
  409. Recently, I was back in southern Illinois, driving with one of my downstate field
  410. directors, a young white man named Robert Stephan, after a long day of speeches and
  411. appearances in the area. It was a beautiful spring night, the broad waters and dusky
  412. banks of the Mississippi shimmering under a full, low-flung moon. The waters
  413. reminded me of Cairo and all the other towns up and down the river, the settlements that
  414. had risen and fallen with the barge traffic and the often sad, tough, cruel histories that
  415. had been deposited there at the confluence of the free and enslaved, the world of Huck
  416. and the world of Jim.
  418. I mentioned to Robert the progress we’d made on tearing down the old hospital in
  419. Cairo—our office had started meeting with the state health department and local
  420. officials—and told him about my first visit to the town. Because Robert had grown up
  421. in the southern part of the state, we soon found ourselves talking about the racial
  422. attitudes of his friends and neighbors. Just the previous week, he said, a few local guys
  423. with some influence had invited him to join them at a small social club in Alton, a
  424. couple of blocks from the house where he’d been raised. Robert had never been to the
  425. place, but it seemed nice enough. The food had been served, the group was making
  426. some small talk, when Robert noticed that of the fifty or so people in the room not a
  427. single person was black. Since Alton’s population is about a quarter African American,
  428. Robert thought this odd, and asked the men about it.
  430. It’s a private club, one of them said.
  432. At first, Robert didn’t understand—had no blacks tried to join? When they said nothing,
  433. he said, It’s 2006, for God’s sake.
  435. The men shrugged. It’s always been that way, they told him. No blacks allowed.
  437. Which is when Robert dropped his napkin on his plate, said good night, and left.
  439. I suppose I could spend time brooding over those men in the club, file it as evidence
  440. that white people still maintain a simmering hostility toward those who look like me.
  441. But I don’t want to confer on such bigotry a power it no longer possesses.
  443. I choose to think about Robert instead, and the small but difficult gesture he made. If a
  444. young man like Robert can make the effort to cross the currents of habit and fear in
  445. order to do what he knows is right, then I want to be sure that I’m there to meet him on
  446. the other side and help him onto shore.
  450. MY ELECTION WASN’T just aided by the evolving racial attitudes of Illinois’s white
  451. voters. It reflected changes in Illinois’s African American community as well.
  453. One measure of these changes could be seen in the types of early support my campaign
  454. received. Of the first $500,000 that I raised during the primary, close to half came from
  455. black businesses and professionals. It was a black-owned radio station, WVON, that
  456. first began to mention my campaign on the Chicago airwaves, and a black-owned
  457. weekly newsmagazine, N’Digo, that first featured me on its cover. One of the first times
  458. I needed a corporate jet for the campaign, it was a black friend who lent me his.
  460. Such capacity simply did not exist a generation ago. Although Chicago has always had
  461. one of the more vibrant black business communities in the country, in the sixties and
  462. seventies only a handful of self-made men—John Johnson, the founder of Ebony and
  463. Jet; George Johnson, the founder of Johnson Products; Ed Gardner, the founder of Soft
  464. Sheen; and Al Johnson, the first black in the country to own a GM franchise—would
  465. have been considered wealthy by the standards of white America.
  467. Today not only is the city filled with black doctors, dentists, lawyers, accountants, and
  468. other professionals, but blacks also occupy some of the highest management positions
  469. in corporate Chicago. Blacks own restaurant chains, investment banks, PR agencies,
  470. real estate investment trusts, and architectural firms. They can afford to live in
  471. neighborhoods of their choosing and send their children to the best private schools.
  472. They are actively recruited to join civic boards and generously support all manner of
  473. charities.
  475. Statistically, the number of African Americans who occupy the top fifth of the income
  476. ladder remains relatively small. Moreover, every black professional and businessperson
  477. in Chicago can tell you stories of the roadblocks they still experience on account of
  478. race. Few African American entrepreneurs have either the inherited wealth or the angel
  479. investors to help launch their businesses or cushion them from a sudden economic
  480. downturn. Few doubt that if they were white they would be further along in reaching
  481. their goals.
  483. And yet you won’t hear these men and women use race as a crutch or point to
  484. discrimination as an excuse for failure. In fact, what characterizes this new generation
  485. of black professionals is their rejection of any limits to what they can achieve. When a
  486. friend who had been the number one bond salesman at Merrill Lynch’s Chicago office
  487. decided to start his own investment bank, his goal wasn’t to grow it into the top black
  488. firm—he wanted it to become the top firm, period. When another friend decided to
  489. leave an executive position at General Motors to start his own parking service company
  490. in partnership with Hyatt, his mother thought he was crazy. “She couldn’t imagine
  491. anything better than having a management job at GM,” he told me, “because those jobs
  492. were unattainable for her generation. But I knew I wanted to build something of my
  493. own.”
  495. That simple notion—that one isn’t confined in one’s dreams—is so central to our
  496. understanding of America that it seems almost commonplace. But in black America, the
  497. idea represents a radical break from the past, a severing of the psychological shackles of
  498. slavery and Jim Crow. It is perhaps the most important legacy of the civil rights
  499. movement, a gift from those leaders like John Lewis and Rosa Parks who marched,
  500. rallied, and endured threats, arrests, and beatings to widen the doors of freedom. And it
  501. is also a testament to that generation of African American mothers and fathers whose
  502. heroism was less dramatic but no less important: parents who worked all their lives in
  503. jobs that were too small for them, without complaint, scrimping and saving to buy a
  504. small home; parents who did without so that their children could take dance classes or
  505. the school-sponsored field trip; parents who coached Little League games and baked
  506. birthday cakes and badgered teachers to make sure that their children weren’t tracked
  507. into the less challenging programs; parents who dragged their children to church every
  508. Sunday, whupped their children’s behinds when they got out of line, and looked out for
  509. all the children on the block during long summer days and into the night. Parents who
  510. pushed their children to achieve and fortified them with a love that could withstand
  511. whatever the larger society might throw at them.
  513. It is through this quintessentially American path of upward mobility that the black
  514. middle class has grown fourfold in a generation, and that the black poverty rate was cut
  515. in half. Through a similar process of hard work and commitment to family, Latinos
  516. have seen comparable gains: From 1979 to 1999, the number of Latino families
  518. considered middle class has grown by more than 70 percent. In their hopes and
  519. expectations, these black and Latino workers are largely indistinguishable from their
  520. white counterparts. They are the people who make our economy run and our democracy
  521. flourish—the teachers, mechanics, nurses, computer technicians, assembly-line workers,
  522. bus drivers, postal workers, store managers, plumbers, and repairmen who constitute
  523. America’s vital heart.
  525. And yet, for all the progress that’s been made in the past four decades, a stubborn gap
  526. remains between the living standards of black, Latino, and white workers. The average
  527. black wage is 75 percent of the average white wage; the average Latino wage is 71
  528. percent of the average white wage. Black median net worth is about $6,000, and Latino
  529. median net worth is about $8,000, compared to $88,000 for whites. When laid off from
  530. their job or confronted with a family emergency, blacks and Latinos have less savings to
  531. draw on, and parents are less able to lend their children a helping hand. Even middle-
  532. class blacks and Latinos pay more for insurance, are less likely to own their own homes,
  533. and suffer poorer health than Americans as a whole. More minorities may be living the
  534. American dream, but their hold on that dream remains tenuous.
  536. How we close this persistent gap—and how much of a role government should play in
  537. achieving that goal—remains one of the central controversies of American politics. But
  538. there should be some strategies we can all agree on. We might start with completing the
  539. unfinished business of the civil rights movement—namely, enforcing nondiscrimination
  540. laws in such basic areas as employment, housing, and education. Anyone who thinks
  541. that such enforcement is no longer needed should pay a visit to one of the suburban
  542. office parks in their area and count the number of blacks employed there, even in the
  543. relatively unskilled jobs, or stop by a local trade union hall and inquire as to the number
  544. of blacks in the apprenticeship program, or read recent studies showing that real estate
  545. brokers continue to steer prospective black homeowners away from predominantly
  546. white neighborhoods. Unless you live in a state without many black residents, I think
  547. you’ll agree that something’s amiss.
  549. Under recent Republican Administrations, such enforcement of civil rights laws has
  550. been tepid at best, and under the current Administration, it’s been essentially
  551. nonexistent—unless one counts the eagerness of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights
  552. Division to label university scholarship or educational enrichment programs targeted at
  553. minority students as “reverse discrimination,” no matter how underrepresented minority
  554. students may be in a particular institution or field, and no matter how incidental the
  555. program’s impact on white students.
  557. This should be a source of concern across the political spectrum, even to those who
  558. oppose affirmative action. Affirmative action programs, when properly structured, can
  559. open up opportunities otherwise closed to qualified minorities without diminishing
  560. opportunities for white students. Given the dearth of black and Latino Ph.D. candidates
  561. in mathematics and the physical sciences, for example, a modest scholarship program
  562. for minorities interested in getting advanced degrees in these fields (a recent target of a
  563. Justice Department inquiry) won’t keep white students out of such programs, but can
  564. broaden the pool of talent that America will need for all of us to prosper in a
  565. technology-based economy. Moreover, as a lawyer who’s worked on civil rights cases, I
  566. can say that where there’s strong evidence of prolonged and systematic discrimination
  568. by large corporations, trade unions, or branches of municipal government, goals and
  569. timetables for minority hiring may be the only meaningful remedy available.
  571. Many Americans disagree with me on this as a matter of principle, arguing that our
  572. institutions should never take race into account, even if it is to help victims of past
  573. discrimination. Fair enough—I understand their arguments, and don’t expect the debate
  574. to be settled anytime soon. But that shouldn’t stop us from at least making sure that
  575. when two equally qualified people—one minority and one white—apply for a job,
  576. house, or loan, and the white person is consistently preferred, then the government,
  577. through its prosecutors and through its courts, should step in to make things right.
  579. We should also agree that the responsibility to close the gap can’t come from
  580. government alone; minorities, individually and collectively, have responsibilities as
  581. well. Many of the social or cultural factors that negatively affect black people, for
  582. example, simply mirror in exaggerated form problems that afflict America as a whole:
  583. too much television (the average black household has the television on more than eleven
  584. hours per day), too much consumption of poisons (blacks smoke more and eat more fast
  585. food), and a lack of emphasis on educational achievement.
  587. Then there’s the collapse of the two-parent black household, a phenomenon that is
  588. occurring at such an alarming rate when compared to the rest of American society that
  589. what was once a difference in degree has become a difference in kind, a phenomenon
  590. that reflects a casualness toward sex and child rearing among black men that renders
  591. black children more vulnerable—and for which there is simply no excuse.
  593. Taken together, these factors impede progress. Moreover, although government action
  594. can help change behavior (encouraging supermarket chains with fresh produce to locate
  595. in black neighborhoods, to take just one small example, would go a long way toward
  596. changing people’s eating habits), a transformation in attitudes has to begin in the home,
  597. and in neighborhoods, and in places of worship. Community-based institutions,
  598. particularly the historically black church, have to help families reinvigorate in young
  599. people a reverence for educational achievement, encourage healthier lifestyles, and
  600. reenergize traditional social norms surrounding the joys and obligations of fatherhood.
  602. Ultimately, though, the most important tool to close the gap between minority and white
  603. workers may have little to do with race at all. These days, what ails working-class and
  604. middle-class blacks and Latinos is not fundamentally different from what ails their
  605. white counterparts: downsizing, outsourcing, automation, wage stagnation, the
  606. dismantling of employer-based health-care and pension plans, and schools that fail to
  607. teach young people the skills they need to compete in a global economy. (Blacks in
  608. particular have been vulnerable to these trends, since they are more reliant on blue-
  609. collar manufacturing jobs and are less likely to live in suburban communities where
  610. new jobs are being generated.) And what would help minority workers are the same
  611. things that would help white workers: the opportunity to earn a living wage, the
  612. education and training that lead to such jobs, labor laws and tax laws that restore some
  613. balance to the distribution of the nation’s wealth, and health-care, child care, and
  614. retirement systems that working people can count on.
  616. This pattern—of a rising tide lifting minority boats—has certainly held true in the past.
  617. The progress made by the previous generation of Latinos and African Americans
  619. occurred primarily because the same ladders of opportunity that built the white middle
  620. class were for the first time made available to minorities as well. They benefited, as all
  621. people did, from an economy that was growing and a government interested in investing
  622. in its people. Not only did tight labor markets, access to capital, and programs like Pell
  623. Grants and Perkins Loans benefit blacks directly; growing incomes and a sense of
  624. security among whites made them less resistant to minority claims for equality.
  626. The same formula holds true today. As recently as 1999, the black unemployment rate
  627. fell to record lows and black income rose to record highs not because of a surge in
  628. affirmative action hiring or a sudden change in the black work ethic but because the
  629. economy was booming and government took a few modest measures—like the
  630. expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit—to spread the wealth around. If you want
  631. to know the secret of Bill Clinton’s popularity among African Americans, you need
  632. look no further than these statistics.
  634. But these same statistics should also force those of us interested in racial equality to
  635. conduct an honest accounting of the costs and benefits of our current strategies. Even as
  636. we continue to defend affirmative action as a useful, if limited, tool to expand
  637. opportunity to underrepresented minorities, we should consider spending a lot more of
  638. our political capital convincing America to make the investments needed to ensure that
  639. all children perform at grade level and graduate from high school—a goal that, if met,
  640. would do more than affirmative action to help those black and Latino children who need
  641. it the most. Similarly, we should support targeted programs to eliminate existing health
  642. disparities between minorities and whites (some evidence suggests that even when
  643. income and levels of insurance are factored out, minorities may still be receiving worse
  644. care), but a plan for universal health-care coverage would do more to eliminate health
  645. disparities between whites and minorities than any race-specific programs we might
  646. design.
  648. An emphasis on universal, as opposed to race-specific, programs isn’t just good policy;
  649. it’s also good politics. I remember once sitting with one of my Democratic colleagues in
  650. the Illinois state senate as we listened to another fellow senator—an African American
  651. whom I’ll call John Doe who represented a largely inner-city district—launch into a
  652. lengthy and passionate peroration on why the elimination of a certain program was a
  653. case of blatant racism. After a few minutes, the white senator (who had one of the
  654. chamber’s more liberal voting records) turned to me and said, “You know what the
  655. problem is with John? Whenever I hear him, he makes me feel more white.”
  657. In defense of my black colleague, I pointed out that it’s not always easy for a black
  658. politician to gauge the right tone to take—too angry? not angry enough?—when
  659. discussing the enormous hardships facing his or her constituents. Still, my white
  660. colleague’s comment was instructive. Rightly or wrongly, white guilt has largely
  661. exhausted itself in America; even the most fair-minded of whites, those who would
  662. genuinely like to see racial inequality ended and poverty relieved, tend to push back
  663. against suggestions of racial victimization—or race-specific claims based on the history
  664. of race discrimination in this country.
  666. Some of this has to do with the success of conservatives in fanning the politics of
  667. resentment—by wildly overstating, for example, the adverse effects of affirmative
  668. action on white workers. But mainly it’s a matter of simple self-interest. Most white
  670. Americans figure that they haven’t engaged in discrimination themselves and have
  671. plenty of their own problems to worry about. They also know that with a national debt
  672. approaching $9 trillion and annual deficits of almost $300 billion, the country has
  673. precious few resources to help them with those problems.
  675. As a result, proposals that solely benefit minorities and dissect Americans into “us” and
  676. “them” may generate a few short-term concessions when the costs to whites aren’t too
  677. high, but they can’t serve as the basis for the kinds of sustained, broad-based political
  678. coalitions needed to transform America. On the other hand, universal appeals around
  679. strategies that help all Americans (schools that teach, jobs that pay, health care for
  680. everyone who needs it, a government that helps out after a flood), along with measures
  681. that ensure our laws apply equally to everyone and hence uphold broadly held American
  682. ideals (like better enforcement of existing civil rights laws), can serve as the basis for
  683. such coalitions—even if such strategies disproportionately help minorities.
  685. Such a shift in emphasis is not easy: Old habits die hard, and there is always a fear on
  686. the part of many minorities that unless racial discrimination, past and present, stays on
  687. the front burner, white America will be let off the hook and hard-fought gains may be
  688. reversed. I understand these fears—nowhere is it ordained that history moves in a
  689. straight line, and during difficult economic times it is possible that the imperatives of
  690. racial equality get shunted aside.
  692. Still, when I look at what past generations of minorities have had to overcome, I am
  693. optimistic about the ability of this next generation to continue their advance into the
  694. economic mainstream. For most of our recent history, the rungs on the opportunity
  695. ladder may have been more slippery for blacks; the admittance of Latinos into
  696. firehouses and corporate suites may have been grudging. But despite all that, the
  697. combination of economic growth, government investment in broad-based programs to
  698. encourage upward mobility, and a modest commitment to enforce the simple principle
  699. of nondiscrimination was sufficient to pull the large majority of blacks and Latinos into
  700. the socioeconomic mainstream within a generation.
  702. We need to remind ourselves of this achievement. What’s remarkable is not the number
  703. of minorities who have failed to climb into the middle class but the number who
  704. succeeded against the odds; not the anger and bitterness that parents of color have
  705. transmitted to their children but the degree to which such emotions have ebbed. That
  706. knowledge gives us something to build on. It tells us that more progress can be made.
  710. IF UNIVERSAL STRATEGIES that target the challenges facing all Americans can go
  711. a long way toward closing the gap between blacks, Latinos, and whites, there are two
  712. aspects of race relations in America that require special attention—issues that fan the
  713. flames of racial conflict and undermine the progress that’s been made. With respect to
  714. the African American community, the issue is the deteriorating condition of the inner-
  715. city poor. With respect to Latinos, it is the problem of undocumented workers and the
  716. political firestorm surrounding immigration.
  718. One of my favorite restaurants in Chicago is a place called MacArthur’s. It’s away from
  719. the Loop, on the west end of the West Side on Madison Street, a simple, brightly lit
  721. space with booths of blond wood that seat maybe a hundred people. On any day of the
  722. week, about that many people can be found lining up—families, teenagers, groups of
  723. matronly women and elderly men—all waiting their turn, cafeteria-style, for plates
  724. filled with fried chicken, catfish, hoppin’ John, collard greens, meatloaf, cornbread, and
  725. other soul-food standards. As these folks will tell you, it’s well worth the wait.
  727. The restaurant’s owner, Mac Alexander, is a big, barrel-chested man in his early sixties,
  728. with thinning gray hair, a mustache, and a slight squint behind his glasses that gives him
  729. a pensive, professorial air. He’s an army vet, born in Lexington, Mississippi, who lost
  730. his left leg in Vietnam; after his convalescence, he and his wife moved to Chicago,
  731. where he took business courses while working in a warehouse. In 1972, he opened
  732. Mac’s Records, and helped found the Westside Business Improvement Association,
  733. pledging to fix up what he calls his “little corner of the world.”
  735. By any measure he has succeeded. His record store grew; he opened up the restaurant
  736. and hired local residents to work there; he started buying and rehabbing run-down
  737. buildings and renting them out. It’s because of the efforts of men and women like Mac
  738. that the view along Madison Street is not as grim as the West Side’s reputation might
  739. suggest. There are clothing stores and pharmacies and what seems like a church on
  740. every block. Off the main thoroughfare you will find the same small bungalows—with
  741. neatly trimmed lawns and carefully tended flower beds—that make up many of
  742. Chicago’s neighborhoods.
  744. But travel a few blocks farther in any direction and you will also experience a different
  745. side of Mac’s world: the throngs of young men on corners casting furtive glances up
  746. and down the street; the sound of sirens blending with the periodic thump of car stereos
  747. turned up full blast; the dark, boarded-up buildings and hastily scrawled gang signs; the
  748. rubbish everywhere, swirling in winter winds. Recently, the Chicago Police Department
  749. installed permanent cameras and flashing lights atop the lampposts of Madison, bathing
  750. each block in a perpetual blue glow. The folks who live along Madison didn’t complain;
  751. flashing blue lights are a familiar enough sight. They’re just one more reminder of what
  752. everybody knows—that the community’s immune system has broken down almost
  753. entirely, weakened by drugs and gunfire and despair; that despite the best efforts of
  754. folks like Mac, a virus has taken hold, and a people is wasting away.
  756. “Crime’s nothing new on the West Side,” Mac told me one afternoon as we walked to
  757. look at one of his buildings. “I mean, back in the seventies, the police didn’t really take
  758. the idea of looking after black neighborhoods seriously. As long as trouble didn’t spill
  759. out into the white neighborhoods, they didn’t care. First store I opened, on Lake and
  760. Damen, I must’ve had eight, nine break-ins in a row.
  762. “The police are more responsive now,” Mac said. “The commander out here, he’s a
  763. good brother, does the best he can. But he’s just as overwhelmed as everybody else.
  764. See, these kids out here, they just don’t care. Police don’t scare ’em, jail doesn’t scare
  765. ’em—more than half of the young guys out here already got a record. If the police pick
  766. up ten guys standing on a corner, another ten’ll take their place in an hour.
  768. “That’s the thing that’s changed…the attitude of these kids. You can’t blame them,
  769. really, because most of them have nothing at home. Their mothers can’t tell them
  770. nothing—a lot of these women are still children themselves. Father’s in jail. Nobody
  772. around to guide the kids, keep them in school, teach them respect. So these boys just
  773. raise themselves, basically, on the streets. That’s all they know. The gang, that’s their
  774. family. They don’t see any jobs out here except the drug trade. Don’t get me wrong,
  775. we’ve still got a lot of good families around here…not a lot of money necessarily, but
  776. doing their best to keep their kids out of trouble. But they’re just too outnumbered. The
  777. longer they stay, the more they feel their kids are at risk. So the minute they get a
  778. chance, they move out. And that just leaves things worse.”
  780. Mac shook his head. “I don’t know. I keep thinking we can turn things around. But I’ll
  781. be honest with you, Barack—it’s hard not to feel sometimes like the situation is
  782. hopeless. Hard—and getting harder.”
  784. I hear a lot of such sentiments in the African American community these days, a frank
  785. acknowledgment that conditions in the heart of the inner city are spinning out of
  786. control. Sometimes the conversation will center on statistics—the infant mortality rate
  787. (on par with Malaysia among poor black Americans), or black male unemployment
  788. (estimated at more than a third in some Chicago neighborhoods), or the number of black
  789. men who can expect to go through the criminal justice system at some point in their
  790. lives (one in three nationally).
  792. But more often the conversation focuses on personal stories, offered as evidence of a
  793. fundamental breakdown within a portion of our community and voiced with a mixture
  794. of sadness and incredulity. A teacher will talk about what it’s like to have an eight-year-
  795. old shout obscenities and threaten her with bodily harm. A public defender will describe
  796. a fifteen-year-old’s harrowing rap sheet or the nonchalance with which his clients
  797. predict they will not live to see their thirtieth year. A pediatrician will describe the
  798. teenage parents who don’t think there’s anything wrong with feeding their toddlers
  799. potato chips for breakfast, or who admit to having left their five- or six-year-old alone at
  800. home.
  802. These are the stories of those who didn’t make it out of history’s confinement, of the
  803. neighborhoods within the black community that house the poorest of the poor, serving
  804. as repositories for all the scars of slavery and violence of Jim Crow, the internalized
  805. rage and the forced ignorance, the shame of men who could not protect their women or
  806. support their families, the children who grew up being told they wouldn’t amount to
  807. anything and had no one there to undo the damage.
  809. There was a time, of course, when such deep intergenerational poverty could still shock
  810. a nation—when the publication of Michael Harrington’s The Other America or Bobby
  811. Kennedy’s visits to the Mississippi Delta could inspire outrage and a call to action. Not
  812. anymore. Today the images of the so-called underclass are ubiquitous, a permanent
  813. fixture in American popular culture—in film and TV, where they’re the foil of choice
  814. for the forces of law and order; in rap music and videos, where the gangsta life is
  815. glorified and mimicked by white and black teenagers alike (although white teenagers, at
  816. least, are aware that theirs is just a pose); and on the nightly news, where the
  817. depredation to be found in the inner city always makes for good copy. Rather than
  818. evoke our sympathy, our familiarity with the lives of the black poor has bred spasms of
  819. fear and outright contempt. But mostly it’s bred indifference. Black men filling our
  820. prisons, black children unable to read or caught in a gangland shooting, the black
  821. homeless sleeping on grates and in the parks of our nation’s capital—we take these
  823. things for granted, as part of the natural order, a tragic situation, perhaps, but not one for
  824. which we are culpable, and certainly not something subject to change.
  826. This concept of a black underclass—separate, apart, alien in its behavior and in its
  827. values—has also played a central role in modern American politics. It was partly on
  828. behalf of fixing the black ghetto that Johnson’s War on Poverty was launched, and it
  829. was on the basis of that war’s failures, both real and perceived, that conservatives turned
  830. much of the country against the very concept of the welfare state. A cottage industry
  831. grew within conservative think tanks, arguing not only that cultural pathologies—rather
  832. than racism or structural inequalities built into our economy—were responsible for
  833. black poverty but also that government programs like welfare, coupled with liberal
  834. judges who coddled criminals, actually made these pathologies worse. On television,
  835. images of innocent children with distended bellies were replaced with those of black
  836. looters and muggers; news reports focused less on the black maid struggling to make
  837. ends meet and more on the “welfare queen” who had babies just to collect a check.
  838. What was needed, conservatives argued, was a stern dose of discipline—more police,
  839. more prisons, more personal responsibility, and an end to welfare. If such strategies
  840. could not transform the black ghetto, at least they would contain it and keep
  841. hardworking taxpayers from throwing good money after bad.
  843. That conservatives won over white public opinion should come as no surprise. Their
  844. arguments tapped into a distinction between the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor
  845. that has a long and varied history in America, an argument that has often been racially
  846. or ethnically tinged and that has gained greater currency during those periods—like the
  847. seventies and eighties—when economic times are tough. The response of liberal policy
  848. makers and civil rights leaders didn’t help; in their urgency to avoid blaming the victims
  849. of historical racism, they tended to downplay or ignore evidence that entrenched
  850. behavioral patterns among the black poor really were contributing to intergenerational
  851. poverty. (Most famously, Daniel Patrick Moynihan was accused of racism in the early
  852. sixties when he raised alarms about the rise of out-of-wedlock births among the black
  853. poor.) This willingness to dismiss the role that values played in shaping the economic
  854. success of a community strained credulity and alienated working-class whites—
  855. particularly since some of the most liberal policy makers lived lives far removed from
  856. urban disorder.
  858. The truth is that such rising frustration with conditions in the inner city was hardly
  859. restricted to whites. In most black neighborhoods, law-abiding, hardworking residents
  860. have been demanding more aggressive police protection for years, since they are far
  861. more likely to be victims of crime. In private—around kitchen tables, in barbershops,
  862. and after church—black folks can often be heard bemoaning the eroding work ethic,
  863. inadequate parenting, and declining sexual mores with a fervor that would make the
  864. Heritage Foundation proud.
  866. In that sense, black attitudes regarding the sources of chronic poverty are far more
  867. conservative than black politics would care to admit. What you won’t hear, though, are
  868. blacks using such terms as “predator” in describing a young gang member, or
  869. “underclass” in describing mothers on welfare—language that divides the world
  870. between those who are worthy of our concern and those who are not. For black
  871. Americans, such separation from the poor is never an option, and not just because the
  873. color of our skin—and the conclusions the larger society draws from our color—makes
  874. all of us only as free, only as respected, as the least of us.
  876. It’s also because blacks know the back story to the inner city’s dysfunction. Most blacks
  877. who grew up in Chicago remember the collective story of the great migration from the
  878. South, how after arriving in the North blacks were forced into ghettos because of racial
  879. steering and restrictive covenants and stacked up in public housing, where the schools
  880. were substandard and the parks were underfunded and police protection was nonexistent
  881. and the drug trade was tolerated. They remember how the plum patronage jobs were
  882. reserved for other immigrant groups and the blue-collar jobs that black folks relied on
  883. evaporated, so that families that had been intact began to crack under the pressure and
  884. ordinary children slipped through those cracks, until a tipping point was reached and
  885. what had once been the sad exception somehow became the rule. They know what
  886. drove that homeless man to drink because he is their uncle. That hardened criminal—
  887. they remember when he was a little boy, so full of life and capable of love, for he is
  888. their cousin.
  890. In other words, African Americans understand that culture matters but that culture is
  891. shaped by circumstance. We know that many in the inner city are trapped by their own
  892. self-destructive behaviors but that those behaviors are not innate. And because of that
  893. knowledge, the black community remains convinced that if America finds its will to do
  894. so, then circumstances for those trapped in the inner city can be changed, individual
  895. attitudes among the poor will change in kind, and the damage can gradually be undone,
  896. if not for this generation then at least for the next.
  898. Such wisdom might help us move beyond ideological bickering and serve as the basis
  899. of a renewed effort to tackle the problems of inner-city poverty. We could begin by
  900. acknowledging that perhaps the single biggest thing we could do to reduce such poverty
  901. is to encourage teenage girls to finish high school and avoid having children out of
  902. wedlock. In this effort, school- and community-based programs that have a proven track
  903. record of reducing teen pregnancy need to be expanded, but parents, clergy, and
  904. community leaders also need to speak out more consistently on the issue.
  906. We should also acknowledge that conservatives—and Bill Clinton—were right about
  907. welfare as it was previously structured: By detaching income from work, and by making
  908. no demands on welfare recipients other than a tolerance for intrusive bureaucracy and
  909. an assurance that no man lived in the same house as the mother of his children, the old
  910. AFDC program sapped people of their initiative and eroded their self-respect. Any
  911. strategy to reduce intergenerational poverty has to be centered on work, not welfare—
  912. not only because work provides independence and income but also because work
  913. provides order, structure, dignity, and opportunities for growth in people’s lives.
  915. But we also need to admit that work alone does not ensure that people can rise out of
  916. poverty. Across America, welfare reform has sharply reduced the number of people on
  917. the public dole; it has also swelled the ranks of the working poor, with women churning
  918. in and out of the labor market, locked into jobs that don’t pay a living wage, forced
  919. every day to scramble for adequate child care, affordable housing, and accessible health
  920. care, only to find themselves at the end of each month wondering how they can stretch
  921. the last few dollars that they have left to cover the food bill, the gas bill, and the baby’s
  922. new coat.
  924. Strategies like an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit that help all low-wage workers
  925. can make an enormous difference in the lives of these women and their children. But if
  926. we’re serious about breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty, then many of these
  927. women will need some extra help with the basics that those living outside the inner city
  928. often take for granted. They need more police and more effective policing in their
  929. neighborhoods, to provide them and their children some semblance of personal security.
  930. They need access to community-based health centers that emphasize prevention—
  931. including reproductive health care, nutritional counseling, and in some cases treatment
  932. for substance abuse. They need a radical transformation of the schools their children
  933. attend, and access to affordable child care that will allow them to hold a full-time job or
  934. pursue their education.
  936. And in many cases they need help learning to be effective parents. By the time many
  937. inner-city children reach the school system, they’re already behind—unable to identify
  938. basic numbers, colors, or the letters in the alphabet, unaccustomed to sitting still or
  939. participating in a structured environment, and often burdened by undiagnosed health
  940. problems. They’re unprepared not because they’re unloved but because their mothers
  941. don’t know how to provide what they need. Well-structured government programs—
  942. prenatal counseling, access to regular pediatric care, parenting programs, and quality
  943. early-childhood-education programs—have a proven ability to help fill the void.
  945. Finally, we need to tackle the nexus of unemployment and crime in the inner city so that
  946. the men who live there can begin fulfilling their responsibilities. The conventional
  947. wisdom is that most unemployed inner-city men could find jobs if they really wanted to
  948. work; that they inevitably prefer drug dealing, with its attendant risks but potential
  949. profits, to the low-paying jobs that their lack of skills warrants. In fact, economists
  950. who’ve studied the issue—and the young men whose fates are at stake—will tell you
  951. that the costs and benefits of the street life don’t match the popular mythology: At the
  952. bottom or even the middle ranks of the industry, drug dealing is a minimum-wage
  953. affair. For many inner-city men, what prevents gainful employment is not simply the
  954. absence of motivation to get off the streets but the absence of a job history or any
  955. marketable skills—and, increasingly, the stigma of a prison record.
  957. Ask Mac, who has made it part of his mission to provide young men in his
  958. neighborhood a second chance. Ninety-five percent of his male employees are ex-
  959. felons, including one of his best cooks, who has been in and out of prison for the past
  960. twenty years for various drug offenses and one count of armed robbery. Mac starts them
  961. out at eight dollars an hour and tops them out at fifteen dollars an hour. He has no
  962. shortage of applicants. Mac’s the first one to admit that some of the guys come in with
  963. issues—they aren’t used to getting to work on time, and a lot of them aren’t used to
  964. taking orders from a supervisor—and his turnover can be high. But by not accepting
  965. excuses from the young men he employs (“I tell them I got a business to run, and if they
  966. don’t want the job I got other folks who do”), he finds that most are quick to adapt.
  967. Over time they become accustomed to the rhythms of ordinary life: sticking to
  968. schedules, working as part of a team, carrying their weight. They start talking about
  969. getting their GEDs, maybe enrolling in the local community college.
  971. They begin to aspire to something better.
  973. It would be nice if there were thousands of Macs out there, and if the market alone
  974. could generate opportunities for all the inner-city men who need them. But most
  975. employers aren’t willing to take a chance on ex-felons, and those who are willing are
  976. often prevented from doing so. In Illinois, for example, ex-felons are prohibited from
  977. working not only in schools, nursing homes, and hospitals—restrictions that sensibly
  978. reflect our unwillingness to compromise the safety of our children or aging parents—
  979. but some are also prohibited from working as barbers and nail technicians.
  981. Government could kick-start a transformation of circumstances for these men by
  982. working with private-sector contractors to hire and train ex-felons on projects that can
  983. benefit the community as a whole: insulating homes and offices to make them energy-
  984. efficient, perhaps, or laying the broadband lines needed to thrust entire communities
  985. into the Internet age. Such programs would cost money, of course—although, given the
  986. annual cost of incarcerating an inmate, any drop in recidivism would help the program
  987. pay for itself. Not all of the hard-core unemployed would prefer entry-level jobs to life
  988. on the streets, and no program to help ex-felons will eliminate the need to lock up
  989. hardened criminals, those whose habits of violence are too deeply entrenched.
  991. Still, we can assume that with lawful work available for young men now in the drug
  992. trade, crime in many communities would drop; that as a consequence more employers
  993. would locate businesses in these neighborhoods and a self-sustaining economy would
  994. begin to take root; and that over the course of ten or fifteen years norms would begin to
  995. change, young men and women would begin to imagine a future for themselves,
  996. marriage rates would rise, and children would have a more stable world in which to
  997. grow up.
  999. What would that be worth to all of us—an America in which crime has fallen, more
  1000. children are cared for, cities are reborn, and the biases, fear, and discord that black
  1001. poverty feeds are slowly drained away? Would it be worth what we’ve spent in the past
  1002. year in Iraq? Would it be worth relinquishing demands for estate tax repeal? It’s hard to
  1003. quantify the benefits of such changes—precisely because the benefits would be
  1004. immeasurable.
  1008. IF THE PROBLEMS of inner-city poverty arise from our failure to face up to an often
  1009. tragic past, the challenges of immigration spark fears of an uncertain future. The
  1010. demographics of America are changing inexorably and at lightning speed, and the
  1011. claims of new immigrants won’t fit neatly into the black-and-white paradigm of
  1012. discrimination and resistance and guilt and recrimination. Indeed, even black and white
  1013. newcomers—from Ghana and Ukraine, Somalia and Romania—arrive on these shores
  1014. unburdened by the racial dynamics of an earlier era.
  1016. During the campaign, I would see firsthand the faces of this new America—in the
  1017. Indian markets along Devon Avenue, in the sparkling new mosque in the southwest
  1018. suburbs, in an Armenian wedding and a Filipino ball, in the meetings of the Korean
  1019. American Leadership Council and the Nigerian Engineers Association. Everywhere I
  1020. went, I found immigrants anchoring themselves to whatever housing and work they
  1021. could find, washing dishes or driving cabs or toiling in their cousin’s dry cleaners,
  1022. saving money and building businesses and revitalizing dying neighborhoods, until they
  1024. moved to the suburbs and raised children with accents that betrayed not the land of their
  1025. parents but their Chicago birth certificates, teenagers who listened to rap and shopped at
  1026. the mall and planned for futures as doctors and lawyers and engineers and even
  1027. politicians.
  1029. Across the country, this classic immigrant story is playing itself out, the story of
  1030. ambition and adaptation, hard work and education, assimilation and upward mobility.
  1031. Today’s immigrants, however, are living out this story in hyperdrive. As beneficiaries
  1032. of a nation more tolerant and more worldly than the one immigrants faced generations
  1033. ago, a nation that has come to revere its immigrant myth, they are more confident in
  1034. their place here, more assertive of their rights. As a senator, I receive countless
  1035. invitations to address these newest Americans, where I am often quizzed on my foreign
  1036. policy views—where do I stand on Cyprus, say, or the future of Taiwan? They may
  1037. have policy concerns specific to fields in which their ethnic groups are heavily
  1038. represented—Indian American pharmacists might complain about Medicare
  1039. reimbursements, Korean small-business owners might lobby for changes in the tax
  1040. code.
  1042. But mostly they want affirmation that they, too, are Americans. Whenever I appear
  1043. before immigrant audiences, I can count on some good-natured ribbing from my staff
  1044. after my speech; according to them, my remarks always follow a three-part structure: “I
  1045. am your friend,” “[Fill in the home country] has been a cradle of civilization,” and “You
  1046. embody the American dream.” They’re right, my message is simple, for what I’ve come
  1047. to understand is that my mere presence before these newly minted Americans serves
  1048. notice that they matter, that they are voters critical to my success and full-fledged
  1049. citizens deserving of respect.
  1051. Of course, not all my conversations in immigrant communities follow this easy pattern.
  1052. In the wake of 9/11, my meetings with Arab and Pakistani Americans, for example,
  1053. have a more urgent quality, for the stories of detentions and FBI questioning and hard
  1054. stares from neighbors have shaken their sense of security and belonging. They have
  1055. been reminded that the history of immigration in this country has a dark underbelly;
  1056. they need specific assurances that their citizenship really means something, that
  1057. America has learned the right lessons from the Japanese internments during World War
  1058. II, and that I will stand with them should the political winds shift in an ugly direction.
  1060. It’s in my meetings with the Latino community, though, in neighborhoods like Pilsen
  1061. and Little Village, towns like Cicero and Aurora, that I’m forced to reflect on the
  1062. meaning of America, the meaning of citizenship, and my sometimes conflicted feelings
  1063. about all the changes that are taking place.
  1065. Of course, the presence of Latinos in Illinois—Puerto Ricans, Colombians, Salvadorans,
  1066. Cubans, and most of all Mexicans—dates back generations, when agricultural workers
  1067. began making their way north and joined ethnic groups in factory jobs throughout the
  1068. region. Like other immigrants, they assimilated into the culture, although like African
  1069. Americans, their upward mobility was often hampered by racial bias. Perhaps for that
  1070. reason, black and Latino political and civil rights leaders often made common cause. In
  1071. 1983, Latino support was critical in the election of Chicago’s first black mayor, Harold
  1072. Washington. That support was reciprocated, as Washington helped elect a generation of
  1073. young, progressive Latinos to the Chicago city council and the Illinois state legislature.
  1075. Indeed, until their numbers finally justified their own organization, Latino state
  1076. legislators were official members of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus.
  1078. It was against this backdrop, shortly after my arrival in Chicago, that my own ties to the
  1079. Latino community were formed. As a young organizer, I often worked with Latino
  1080. leaders on issues that affected both black and brown residents, from failing schools to
  1081. illegal dumping to unimmunized children. My interest went beyond politics; I would
  1082. come to love the Mexican and Puerto Rican sections of the city—the sounds of salsa
  1083. and merengue pulsing out of apartments on hot summer nights, the solemnity of Mass in
  1084. churches once filled with Poles and Italians and Irish, the frantic, happy chatter of
  1085. soccer matches in the park, the cool humor of the men behind the counter at the
  1086. sandwich shop, the elderly women who would grasp my hand and laugh at my pathetic
  1087. efforts at Spanish. I made lifelong friends and allies in those neighborhoods; in my
  1088. mind, at least, the fates of black and brown were to be perpetually intertwined, the
  1089. cornerstone of a coalition that could help America live up to its promise.
  1091. By the time I returned from law school, though, tensions between blacks and Latinos in
  1092. Chicago had started to surface. Between 1990 and 2000, the Spanish-speaking
  1093. population in Chicago rose by 38 percent, and with this surge in population the Latino
  1094. community was no longer content to serve as junior partner in any black-brown
  1095. coalition. After Harold Washington died, a new cohort of Latino elected officials,
  1096. affiliated with Richard M. Daley and remnants of the old Chicago political machine,
  1097. came onto the scene, men and women less interested in high-minded principles and
  1098. rainbow coalitions than in translating growing political power into contracts and jobs.
  1099. As black businesses and commercial strips struggled, Latino businesses thrived, helped
  1100. in part by financial ties to home countries and by a customer base held captive by
  1101. language barriers. Everywhere, it seemed, Mexican and Central American workers
  1102. came to dominate low-wage work that had once gone to blacks—as waiters and
  1103. busboys, as hotel maids and as bellmen—and made inroads in the construction trades
  1104. that had long excluded black labor. Blacks began to grumble and feel threatened; they
  1105. wondered if once again they were about to be passed over by those who’d just arrived.
  1107. I shouldn’t exaggerate the schism. Because both communities share a host of
  1108. challenges, from soaring high school dropout rates to inadequate health insurance,
  1109. blacks and Latinos continue to find common cause in their politics. As frustrated as
  1110. blacks may get whenever they pass a construction site in a black neighborhood and see
  1111. nothing but Mexican workers, I rarely hear them blame the workers themselves; usually
  1112. they reserve their wrath for the contractors who hire them. When pressed, many blacks
  1113. will express a grudging admiration for Latino immigrants—for their strong work ethic
  1114. and commitment to family, their willingness to start at the bottom and make the most of
  1115. what little they have.
  1117. Still, there’s no denying that many blacks share the same anxieties as many whites
  1118. about the wave of illegal immigration flooding our Southern border—a sense that
  1119. what’s happening now is fundamentally different from what has gone on before. Not all
  1120. these fears are irrational. The number of immigrants added to the labor force every year
  1121. is of a magnitude not seen in this country for over a century. If this huge influx of
  1122. mostly low-skill workers provides some benefits to the economy as a whole—especially
  1123. by keeping our workforce young, in contrast to an increasingly geriatric Europe and
  1124. Japan—it also threatens to depress further the wages of blue-collar Americans and put
  1126. strains on an already overburdened safety net. Other fears of native-born Americans are
  1127. disturbingly familiar, echoing the xenophobia once directed at Italians, Irish, and Slavs
  1128. fresh off the boat—fears that Latinos are inherently too different, in culture and in
  1129. temperament, to assimilate fully into the American way of life; fears that, with the
  1130. demographic changes now taking place, Latinos will wrest control away from those
  1131. accustomed to wielding political power.
  1133. For most Americans, though, concerns over illegal immigration go deeper than worries
  1134. about economic displacement and are more subtle than simple racism. In the past,
  1135. immigration occurred on America’s terms; the welcome mat could be extended
  1136. selectively, on the basis of the immigrant’s skills or color or the needs of industry. The
  1137. laborer, whether Chinese or Russian or Greek, found himself a stranger in a strange
  1138. land, severed from his home country, subject to often harsh constraints, forced to adapt
  1139. to rules not of his own making.
  1141. Today it seems those terms no longer apply. Immigrants are entering as a result of a
  1142. porous border rather than any systematic government policy; Mexico’s proximity, as
  1143. well as the desperate poverty of so many of its people, suggests the possibility that
  1144. border crossing cannot even be slowed, much less stopped. Satellites, calling cards, and
  1145. wire transfers, as well as the sheer size of the burgeoning Latino market, make it easier
  1146. for today’s immigrant to maintain linguistic and cultural ties to the land of his or her
  1147. birth (the Spanish-language Univision now boasts the highest-rated newscast in
  1148. Chicago). Native-born Americans suspect that it is they, and not the immigrant, who are
  1149. being forced to adapt. In this way, the immigration debate comes to signify not a loss of
  1150. jobs but a loss of sovereignty, just one more example—like September 11, avian flu,
  1151. computer viruses, and factories moving to China—that America seems unable to control
  1152. its own destiny.
  1156. IT WAS IN this volatile atmosphere—with strong passions on both sides of the
  1157. debate—that the U.S. Senate considered a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the
  1158. spring of 2006. With hundreds of thousands of immigrants protesting in the streets and a
  1159. group of self-proclaimed vigilantes called the Minutemen rushing to defend the
  1160. Southern border, the political stakes were high for Democrats, Republicans, and the
  1161. President.
  1163. Under the leadership of Ted Kennedy and John McCain, the Senate crafted a
  1164. compromise bill with three major components. The bill provided much tougher border
  1165. security and, through an amendment I wrote with Chuck Grassley, made it significantly
  1166. more difficult for employers to hire workers here illegally. The bill also recognized the
  1167. difficulty of deporting twelve million undocumented immigrants and instead created a
  1168. long, eleven-year process under which many of them could earn their citizenship.
  1169. Finally, the bill included a guest worker program that would allow two hundred
  1170. thousand foreign workers to enter the country for temporary employment.
  1172. On balance, I thought the legislation was worth supporting. Still, the guest worker
  1173. provision of the bill troubled me; it was essentially a sop to big business, a means for
  1174. them to employ immigrants without granting them citizenship rights—indeed, a means
  1175. for business to gain the benefits of outsourcing without having to locate their operations
  1177. overseas. To address this problem, I succeeded in including language requiring that any
  1178. job first be offered to U.S. workers, and that employers not undercut American wages
  1179. by paying guest workers less than they would pay U.S. workers. The idea was to ensure
  1180. that businesses turned to temporary foreign workers only when there was a labor
  1181. shortage.
  1183. It was plainly an amendment designed to help American workers, which is why all the
  1184. unions vigorously supported it. But no sooner had the provision been included in the bill
  1185. than some conservatives, both inside and outside of the Senate, began attacking me for
  1186. supposedly “requiring that foreign workers get paid more than U.S. workers.”
  1188. On the floor of the Senate one day, I caught up with one of my Republican colleagues
  1189. who had leveled this charge at me. I explained that the bill would actually protect U.S.
  1190. workers, since employers would have no incentive to hire guest workers if they had to
  1191. pay the same wages they paid U.S. workers. The Republican colleague, who had been
  1192. quite vocal in his opposition to any bill that would legalize the status of undocumented
  1193. immigrants, shook his head.
  1195. “My small business guys are still going to hire immigrants,” he said. “All your
  1196. amendment does is make them pay more for their help.”
  1198. “But why would they hire immigrants over U.S. workers if they cost the same?” I asked
  1199. him.
  1201. He smiled. “’Cause let’s face it, Barack. These Mexicans are just willing to work harder
  1202. than Americans do.”
  1204. That the opponents of the immigration bill could make such statements privately, while
  1205. publicly pretending to stand up for American workers, indicates the degree of cynicism
  1206. and hypocrisy that permeates the immigration debate. But with the public in a sour
  1207. mood, their fears and anxieties fed daily by Lou Dobbs and talk radio hosts around the
  1208. country, I can’t say I’m surprised that the compromise bill has been stalled in the House
  1209. ever since it passed out of the Senate.
  1211. And if I’m honest with myself, I must admit that I’m not entirely immune to such
  1212. nativist sentiments. When I see Mexican flags waved at proimmigration demonstrations,
  1213. I sometimes feel a flush of patriotic resentment. When I’m forced to use a translator to
  1214. communicate with the guy fixing my car, I feel a certain frustration.
  1216. Once, as the immigration debate began to heat up in the Capitol, a group of activists
  1217. visited my office, asking that I sponsor a private relief bill that would legalize the status
  1218. of thirty Mexican nationals who had been deported, leaving behind spouses or children
  1219. with legal resident status. One of my staffers, Danny Sepulveda, a young man of
  1220. Chilean descent, took the meeting, and explained to the group that although I was
  1221. sympathetic to their plight and was one of the chief sponsors of the Senate immigration
  1222. bill, I didn’t feel comfortable, as a matter of principle, sponsoring legislation that would
  1223. select thirty people out of the millions in similar situations for a special dispensation.
  1224. Some in the group became agitated; they suggested that I didn’t care about immigrant
  1225. families and immigrant children, that I cared more about borders than about justice. One
  1227. activist accused Danny of having forgotten where he came from—of not really being
  1228. Latino.
  1230. When I heard what had happened, I was both angry and frustrated. I wanted to call the
  1231. group and explain that American citizenship is a privilege and not a right; that without
  1232. meaningful borders and respect for the law, the very things that brought them to
  1233. America, the opportunities and protections afforded those who live in this country,
  1234. would surely erode; and that anyway, I didn’t put up with people abusing my staff—
  1235. especially one who was championing their cause.
  1237. It was Danny who talked me out of the call, sensibly suggesting that it might be
  1238. counterproductive. Several weeks later, on a Saturday morning, I attended a
  1239. naturalization workshop at St. Pius Church in Pilsen, sponsored by Congressman Luis
  1240. Gutierrez, the Service Employees International Union, and several of the immigrants’
  1241. rights groups that had visited my office. About a thousand people had lined up outside
  1242. the church, including young families, elderly couples, and women with strollers; inside,
  1243. people sat silently in wooden pews, clutching the small American flags that the
  1244. organizers had passed out, waiting to be called by one of the volunteers who would help
  1245. them manage the start of what would be a years-long process to become citizens.
  1247. As I wandered down the aisle, some people smiled and waved; others nodded
  1248. tentatively as I offered my hand and introduced myself. I met a Mexican woman who
  1249. spoke no English but whose son was in Iraq; I recognized a young Colombian man who
  1250. worked as a valet at a local restaurant and learned that he was studying accounting at the
  1251. local community college. At one point a young girl, seven or eight, came up to me, her
  1252. parents standing behind her, and asked me for an autograph; she was studying
  1253. government in school, she said, and would show it to her class.
  1255. I asked her what her name was. She said her name was Cristina and that she was in the
  1256. third grade. I told her parents they should be proud of her. And as I watched Cristina
  1257. translate my words into Spanish for them, I was reminded that America has nothing to
  1258. fear from these newcomers, that they have come here for the same reason that families
  1259. came here 150 years ago—all those who fled Europe’s famines and wars and unyielding
  1260. hierarchies, all those who may not have had the right legal documents or connections or
  1261. unique skills to offer but who carried with them a hope for a better life.
  1263. We have a right and duty to protect our borders. We can insist to those already here that
  1264. with citizenship come obligations—to a common language, common loyalties, a
  1265. common purpose, a common destiny. But ultimately the danger to our way of life is not
  1266. that we will be overrun by those who do not look like us or do not yet speak our
  1267. language. The danger will come if we fail to recognize the humanity of Cristina and her
  1268. family—if we withhold from them the rights and opportunities that we take for granted,
  1269. and tolerate the hypocrisy of a servant class in our midst; or more broadly, if we stand
  1270. idly by as America continues to become increasingly unequal, an inequality that tracks
  1271. racial lines and therefore feeds racial strife and which, as the country becomes more
  1272. black and brown, neither our democracy nor our economy can long withstand.
  1274. That’s not the future I want for Cristina, I said to myself as I watched her and her family
  1275. wave good-bye. That’s not the future I want for my daughters. Their America will be
  1276. more dizzying in its diversity, its culture more polyglot. My daughters will learn
  1278. Spanish and be the better for it. Cristina will learn about Rosa Parks and understand that
  1279. the life of a black seamstress speaks to her own. The issues my girls and Cristina
  1280. confront may lack the stark moral clarity of a segregated bus, but in one form or another
  1281. their generation will surely be tested—just as Mrs. Parks was tested and the Freedom
  1282. Riders were tested, just as we are all tested—by those voices that would divide us and
  1283. have us turn on each other.
  1285. And when they are tested in that way, I hope Cristina and my daughters will have all
  1286. read about the history of this country and will recognize they have been given
  1287. something precious.
  1289. America is big enough to accommodate all their dreams.
  1291. Chapter Eight
  1293. The World Beyond Our Borders
  1295. INDONESIA IS A nation of islands—more than seventeen thousand in all, spread
  1296. along the equator between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, between Australia and the
  1297. South China Sea. Most Indonesians are of Malay stock and live on the larger islands of
  1298. Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and Bali. On the far eastern islands like Ambon
  1299. and the Indonesian portion of New Guinea the people are, in varying degrees, of
  1300. Melanesian ancestry. Indonesia’s climate is tropical, and its rain forests were once
  1301. teeming with exotic species like the orangutan and the Sumatran tiger. Today, those rain
  1302. forests are rapidly dwindling, victim to logging, mining, and the cultivation of rice, tea,
  1303. coffee, and palm oil. Deprived of their natural habitat, orangutans are now an
  1304. endangered species; no more than a few hundred Sumatran tigers remain in the wild.
  1306. With more than 240 million people, Indonesia’s population ranks fourth in the world,
  1307. behind China, India, and the United States. More than seven hundred ethnic groups
  1308. reside within the country’s borders, and more than 742 languages are spoken there.
  1309. Almost 90 percent of Indonesia’s population practice Islam, making it the world’s
  1310. largest Muslim nation. Indonesia is OPEC’s only Asian member, although as a
  1311. consequence of aging infrastructure, depleted reserves, and high domestic consumption
  1312. it is now a net importer of crude oil. The national language is Bahasa Indonesia. The
  1313. capital is Jakarta. The currency is the rupiah.
  1315. Most Americans can’t locate Indonesia on a map.
  1317. This fact is puzzling to Indonesians, since for the past sixty years the fate of their nation
  1318. has been directly tied to U.S. foreign policy. Ruled by a succession of sultanates and
  1319. often-splintering kingdoms for most of its history, the archipelago became a Dutch
  1320. colony—the Dutch East Indies—in the 1600s, a status that would last for more than
  1321. three centuries. But in the lead-up to World War II, the Dutch East Indies’ ample oil
  1322. reserves became a prime target of Japanese expansion; having thrown its lot in with the
  1323. Axis powers and facing a U.S.-imposed oil embargo, Japan needed fuel for its military
  1324. and industry. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan moved swiftly to take over the
  1325. Dutch colony, an occupation that would last for the duration of the war.
  1327. With the Japanese surrender in 1945, a budding Indonesian nationalist movement
  1328. declared the country’s independence. The Dutch had other ideas, and attempted to
  1329. reclaim their former territory. Four bloody years of war ensued. Eventually the Dutch
  1330. bowed to mounting international pressure (the U.S. government, already concerned with
  1331. the spread of communism under the banner of anticolonialism, threatened the
  1332. Netherlands with a cutoff of Marshall Plan funds) and recognized Indonesia’s
  1333. sovereignty. The principal leader of the independence movement, a charismatic,
  1334. flamboyant figure named Sukarno, became Indonesia’s first president.
  1336. Sukarno proved to be a major disappointment to Washington. Along with Nehru of
  1337. India and Nasser of Egypt, he helped found the nonaligned movement, an effort by
  1338. nations newly liberated from colonial rule to navigate an independent path between the
  1339. West and the Soviet bloc. Indonesia’s Communist Party, although never formally in
  1341. power, grew in size and influence. Sukarno himself ramped up the anti-Western
  1342. rhetoric, nationalizing key industries, rejecting U.S. aid, and strengthening ties with the
  1343. Soviets and China. With U.S. forces knee-deep in Vietnam and the domino theory still a
  1344. central tenet of U.S. foreign policy, the CIA began providing covert support to various
  1345. insurgencies inside Indonesia, and cultivated close links with Indonesia’s military
  1346. officers, many of whom had been trained in the United States. In 1965, under the
  1347. leadership of General Suharto, the military moved against Sukarno, and under
  1348. emergency powers began a massive purge of communists and their sympathizers.
  1349. According to estimates, between 500,000 and one million people were slaughtered
  1350. during the purge, with 750,000 others imprisoned or forced into exile.
  1352. It was two years after the purge began, in 1967, the same year that Suharto assumed the
  1353. presidency, that my mother and I arrived in Jakarta, a consequence of her remarriage to
  1354. an Indonesian student whom she’d met at the University of Hawaii. I was six at the
  1355. time, my mother twenty-four. In later years my mother would insist that had she known
  1356. what had transpired in the preceding months, we never would have made the trip. But
  1357. she didn’t know—the full story of the coup and the purge was slow to appear in
  1358. American newspapers. Indonesians didn’t talk about it either. My stepfather, who had
  1359. seen his student visa revoked while still in Hawaii and had been conscripted into the
  1360. Indonesian army a few months before our arrival, refused to talk politics with my
  1361. mother, advising her that some things were best forgotten.
  1363. And in fact, forgetting the past was easy to do in Indonesia. Jakarta was still a sleepy
  1364. backwater in those days, with few buildings over four or five stories high, cycle
  1365. rickshaws outnumbering cars, the city center and wealthier sections of town—with their
  1366. colonial elegance and lush, well-tended lawns—quickly giving way to clots of small
  1367. villages with unpaved roads and open sewers, dusty markets, and shanties of mud and
  1368. brick and plywood and corrugated iron that tumbled down gentle banks to murky rivers
  1369. where families bathed and washed laundry like pilgrims in the Ganges.
  1371. Our family was not well off in those early years; the Indonesian army didn’t pay its
  1372. lieutenants much. We lived in a modest house on the outskirts of town, without air-
  1373. conditioning, refrigeration, or flush toilets. We had no car—my stepfather rode a
  1374. motorcycle, while my mother took the local jitney service every morning to the U.S.
  1375. embassy, where she worked as an English teacher. Without the money to go to the
  1376. international school that most expatriate children attended, I went to local Indonesian
  1377. schools and ran the streets with the children of farmers, servants, tailors, and clerks.
  1379. As a boy of seven or eight, none of this concerned me much. I remember those years as
  1380. a joyous time, full of adventure and mystery—days of chasing down chickens and
  1381. running from water buffalo, nights of shadow puppets and ghost stories and street
  1382. vendors bringing delectable sweets to our door. As it was, I knew that relative to our
  1383. neighbors we were doing fine—unlike many, we always had enough to eat.
  1385. And perhaps more than that, I understood, even at a young age, that my family’s status
  1386. was determined not only by our wealth but by our ties to the West. My mother might
  1387. scowl at the attitudes she heard from other Americans in Jakarta, their condescension
  1388. toward Indonesians, their unwillingness to learn anything about the country that was
  1389. hosting them—but given the exchange rate, she was glad to be getting paid in dollars
  1390. rather than the rupiahs her Indonesian colleagues at the embassy were paid. We might
  1392. live as Indonesians lived—but every so often my mother would take me to the
  1393. American Club, where I could jump in the pool and watch cartoons and sip Coca-Cola
  1394. to my heart’s content. Sometimes, when my Indonesian friends came to our house, I
  1395. would show them books of photographs, of Disneyland or the Empire State Building,
  1396. that my grandmother had sent me; sometimes we would thumb through the Sears
  1397. Roebuck catalog and marvel at the treasures on display. All this, I knew, was part of my
  1398. heritage and set me apart, for my mother and I were citizens of the United States,
  1399. beneficiaries of its power, safe and secure under the blanket of its protection.
  1401. The scope of that power was hard to miss. The U.S. military conducted joint exercises
  1402. with the Indonesian military and training programs for its officers. President Suharto
  1403. turned to a cadre of American economists to design Indonesia’s development plan,
  1404. based on free-market principles and foreign investment. American development
  1405. consultants formed a steady line outside government ministries, helping to manage the
  1406. massive influx of foreign assistance from the U.S. Agency for International
  1407. Development and the World Bank. And although corruption permeated every level of
  1408. government—even the smallest interaction with a policeman or bureaucrat involved a
  1409. bribe, and just about every commodity or product coming in and out of the country,
  1410. from oil to wheat to automobiles, went through companies controlled by the president,
  1411. his family, or members of the ruling junta—enough of the oil wealth and foreign aid
  1412. was plowed back into schools, roads, and other infrastructure that Indonesia’s general
  1413. population saw its living standards rise dramatically; between 1967 and 1997, per capita
  1414. income would go from $50 to $4,600 a year. As far as the United States was concerned,
  1415. Indonesia had become a model of stability, a reliable supplier of raw materials and
  1416. importer of Western goods, a stalwart ally and bulwark against communism.
  1418. I would stay in Indonesia long enough to see some of this newfound prosperity
  1419. firsthand. Released from the army, my stepfather began working for an American oil
  1420. company. We moved to a bigger house and got a car and a driver, a refrigerator, and a
  1421. television set. But in 1971 my mother—concerned for my education and perhaps
  1422. anticipating her own growing distance from my stepfather—sent me to live with my
  1423. grandparents in Hawaii. A year later she and my sister would join me. My mother’s ties
  1424. to Indonesia would never diminish; for the next twenty years she would travel back and
  1425. forth, working for international agencies for six or twelve months at a time as a
  1426. specialist in women’s development issues, designing programs to help village women
  1427. start their own businesses or bring their produce to market. But while during my teenage
  1428. years I would return to Indonesia three or four times on short visits, my life and
  1429. attention gradually turned elsewhere.
  1431. What I know of Indonesia’s subsequent history, then, I know mainly through books,
  1432. newspapers, and the stories my mother told me. For twenty-five years, in fits and starts,
  1433. Indonesia’s economy continued to grow. Jakarta became a metropolis of almost nine
  1434. million souls, with skyscrapers, slums, smog, and nightmare traffic. Men and women
  1435. left the countryside to join the ranks of wage labor in manufacturing plants built by
  1436. foreign investment, making sneakers for Nike and shirts for the Gap. Bali became the
  1437. resort of choice for surfers and rock stars, with five-star hotels, Internet connections,
  1438. and a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise. By the early nineties, Indonesia was
  1439. considered an “Asian tiger,” the next great success story of a globalizing world.
  1441. Even the darker aspects of Indonesian life—its politics and human rights record—
  1442. showed signs of improvement. When it came to sheer brutality, the post-1967 Suharto
  1443. regime never reached the levels of Iraq under Saddam Hussein; with his subdued, placid
  1444. style, the Indonesian president would never attract the attention that more demonstrative
  1445. strongmen like Pinochet or the Shah of Iran did. By any measure, though, Suharto’s rule
  1446. was harshly repressive. Arrests and torture of dissidents were common, a free press
  1447. nonexistent, elections a mere formality. When ethnically based secessionist movements
  1448. sprang up in areas like Aceh, the army targeted not just guerrillas but civilians for swift
  1449. retribution—murder, rape, villages set afire. And throughout the seventies and eighties,
  1450. all this was done with the knowledge, if not outright approval, of U.S. administrations.
  1452. But with the end of the Cold War, Washington’s attitudes began to change. The State
  1453. Department began pressuring Indonesia to curb its human rights abuses. In 1992, after
  1454. Indonesian military units massacred peaceful demonstrators in Dili, East Timor,
  1455. Congress terminated military aid to the Indonesian government. By 1996, Indonesian
  1456. reformists had begun taking to the streets, openly talking about corruption in high
  1457. offices, the military’s excesses, and the need for free and fair elections.
  1459. Then, in 1997, the bottom fell out. A run on currencies and securities throughout Asia
  1460. engulfed an Indonesian economy already corroded by decades of corruption. The
  1461. rupiah’s value fell 85 percent in a matter of months. Indonesian companies that had
  1462. borrowed in dollars saw their balance sheets collapse. In exchange for a $43 billion
  1463. bailout, the Western-dominated International Monetary Fund, or IMF, insisted on a
  1464. series of austerity measures (cutting government subsidies, raising interest rates) that
  1465. would lead the price of such staples as rice and kerosene to nearly double. By the time
  1466. the crisis was over, Indonesia’s economy had contracted almost 14 percent. Riots and
  1467. demonstrations grew so severe that Suharto was finally forced to resign, and in 1998 the
  1468. country’s first free elections were held, with some forty-eight parties vying for seats and
  1469. some ninety-three million people casting their votes.
  1471. On the surface, at least, Indonesia has survived the twin shocks of financial meltdown
  1472. and democratization. The stock market is booming, and a second national election went
  1473. off without major incident, leading to a peaceful transfer of power. If corruption
  1474. remains endemic and the military remains a potent force, there’s been an explosion of
  1475. independent newspapers and political parties to channel discontent.
  1477. On the other hand, democracy hasn’t brought a return to prosperity. Per capita income is
  1478. nearly 22 percent less than it was in 1997. The gap between rich and poor, always
  1479. cavernous, appears to have worsened. The average Indonesian’s sense of deprivation is
  1480. amplified by the Internet and satellite TV, which beam in images of the unattainable
  1481. riches of London, New York, Hong Kong, and Paris in exquisite detail. And anti-
  1482. American sentiment, almost nonexistent during the Suharto years, is now widespread,
  1483. thanks in part to perceptions that New York speculators and the IMF purposely
  1484. triggered the Asian financial crisis. In a 2003 poll, most Indonesians had a higher
  1485. opinion of Osama bin Laden than they did of George W. Bush.
  1487. All of which underscores perhaps the most profound shift in Indonesia—the growth of
  1488. militant, fundamentalist Islam in the country. Traditionally, Indonesians practiced a
  1489. tolerant, almost syncretic brand of the faith, infused with the Buddhist, Hindu, and
  1490. animist traditions of earlier periods. Under the watchful eye of an explicitly secular
  1492. Suharto government, alcohol was permitted, non-Muslims practiced their faith free from
  1493. persecution, and women—sporting skirts or sarongs as they rode buses or scooters on
  1494. the way to work—possessed all the rights that men possessed. Today, Islamic parties
  1495. make up one of the largest political blocs, with many calling for the imposition of
  1496. sharia, or Islamic law. Seeded by funds from the Middle East, Wahhabist clerics,
  1497. schools, and mosques now dot the countryside. Many Indonesian women have adopted
  1498. the head coverings so familiar in the Muslim countries of North Africa and the Persian
  1499. Gulf; Islamic militants and self-proclaimed “vice squads” have attacked churches,
  1500. nightclubs, casinos, and brothels. In 2002, an explosion in a Bali nightclub killed more
  1501. than two hundred people; similar suicide bombings followed in Jakarta in 2004 and Bali
  1502. in 2005. Members of Jemaah Islamiah, a militant Islamic organization with links to Al
  1503. Qaeda, were tried for the bombings; while three of those connected to the bombings
  1504. received death sentences, the spiritual leader of the group, Abu Bakar Bashir, was
  1505. released after a twenty-six-month prison term.
  1507. It was on a beach just a few miles from the site of those bombings that I stayed the last
  1508. time I visited Bali. When I think of that island, and all of Indonesia, I’m haunted by
  1509. memories—the feel of packed mud under bare feet as I wander through paddy fields;
  1510. the sight of day breaking behind volcanic peaks; the muezzin’s call at night and the
  1511. smell of wood smoke; the dickering at the fruit stands alongside the road; the frenzied
  1512. sound of a gamelan orchestra, the musicians’ faces lit by fire. I would like to take
  1513. Michelle and the girls to share that piece of my life, to climb the thousand-year-old
  1514. Hindu ruins of Prambanan or swim in a river high in Balinese hills.
  1516. But my plans for such a trip keep getting delayed. I’m chronically busy, and traveling
  1517. with young children is always difficult. And, too, perhaps I am worried about what I
  1518. will find there—that the land of my childhood will no longer match my memories. As
  1519. much as the world has shrunk, with its direct flights and cell phone coverage and CNN
  1520. and Internet cafés, Indonesia feels more distant now than it did thirty years ago.
  1522. I fear it’s becoming a land of strangers.
  1526. IN THE FIELD of international affairs, it’s dangerous to extrapolate from the
  1527. experiences of a single country. In its history, geography, culture, and conflicts, each
  1528. nation is unique. And yet in many ways Indonesia serves as a useful metaphor for the
  1529. world beyond our borders—a world in which globalization and sectarianism, poverty
  1530. and plenty, modernity and antiquity constantly collide.
  1532. Indonesia also provides a handy record of U.S. foreign policy over the past fifty years.
  1533. In broad outline at least, it’s all there: our role in liberating former colonies and creating
  1534. international institutions to help manage the post–World War II order; our tendency to
  1535. view nations and conflicts through the prism of the Cold War; our tireless promotion of
  1536. American-style capitalism and multinational corporations; the tolerance and occasional
  1537. encouragement of tyranny, corruption, and environmental degradation when it served
  1538. our interests; our optimism once the Cold War ended that Big Macs and the Internet
  1539. would lead to the end of historical conflicts; the growing economic power of Asia and
  1540. the growing resentment of the United States as the world’s sole superpower; the
  1541. realization that in the short term, at least, democratization might lay bare, rather than
  1543. alleviate, ethnic hatreds and religious divisions—and that the wonders of globalization
  1544. might also facilitate economic volatility, the spread of pandemics, and terrorism.
  1546. In other words, our record is mixed—not just in Indonesia but across the globe. At
  1547. times, American foreign policy has been farsighted, simultaneously serving our national
  1548. interests, our ideals, and the interests of other nations. At other times American policies
  1549. have been misguided, based on false assumptions that ignore the legitimate aspirations
  1550. of other peoples, undermine our own credibility, and make for a more dangerous world.
  1552. Such ambiguity shouldn’t be surprising, for American foreign policy has always been a
  1553. jumble of warring impulses. In the earliest days of the Republic, a policy of isolationism
  1554. often prevailed—a wariness of foreign intrigues that befitted a nation just emerging
  1555. from a war of independence. “Why,” George Washington asked in his famous Farewell
  1556. Address, “by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our
  1557. peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or
  1558. caprice?” Washington’s view was reinforced by what he called America’s “detached
  1559. and distant situation,” a geographic separation that would permit the new nation to
  1560. “defy material injury from external annoyance.”
  1562. Moreover, while America’s revolutionary origins and republican form of government
  1563. might make it sympathetic toward those seeking freedom elsewhere, America’s early
  1564. leaders cautioned against idealistic attempts to export our way of life; according to John
  1565. Quincy Adams, America should not go “abroad in search of monsters to destroy” nor
  1566. “become the dictatress of the world.” Providence had charged America with the task of
  1567. making a new world, not reforming the old; protected by an ocean and with the bounty
  1568. of a continent, America could best serve the cause of freedom by concentrating on its
  1569. own development, becoming a beacon of hope for other nations and people around the
  1570. globe.
  1572. But if suspicion of foreign entanglements is stamped into our DNA, then so is the
  1573. impulse to expand—geographically, commercially, and ideologically. Thomas Jefferson
  1574. expressed early on the inevitability of expansion beyond the boundaries of the original
  1575. thirteen states, and his timetable for such expansion was greatly accelerated with the
  1576. Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition. The same John Quincy Adams
  1577. who warned against U.S. adventurism abroad became a tireless advocate of continental
  1578. expansion and served as the chief architect of the Monroe Doctrine—a warning to
  1579. European powers to keep out of the Western Hemisphere. As American soldiers and
  1580. settlers moved steadily west and southwest, successive administrations described the
  1581. annexation of territory in terms of “manifest destiny”—the conviction that such
  1582. expansion was preordained, part of God’s plan to extend what Andrew Jackson called
  1583. “the area of freedom” across the continent.
  1585. Of course, manifest destiny also meant bloody and violent conquest—of Native
  1586. American tribes forcibly removed from their lands and of the Mexican army defending
  1587. its territory. It was a conquest that, like slavery, contradicted America’s founding
  1588. principles and tended to be justified in explicitly racist terms, a conquest that American
  1589. mythology has always had difficulty fully absorbing but that other countries recognized
  1590. for what it was—an exercise in raw power.
  1592. With the end of the Civil War and the consolidation of what’s now the continental
  1593. United States, that power could not be denied. Intent on expanding markets for its
  1594. goods, securing raw materials for its industry, and keeping sea lanes open for its
  1595. commerce, the nation turned its attention overseas. Hawaii was annexed, giving
  1596. America a foothold in the Pacific. The Spanish-American War delivered Puerto Rico,
  1597. Guam, and the Philippines into U.S. control; when some members of the Senate
  1598. objected to the military occupation of an archipelago seven thousand miles away—an
  1599. occupation that would involve thousands of U.S. troops crushing a Philippine
  1600. independence movement—one senator argued that the acquisition would provide the
  1601. United States with access to the China market and mean “a vast trade and wealth and
  1602. power.” America would never pursue the systematic colonization practiced by European
  1603. nations, but it shed all inhibitions about meddling in the affairs of countries it deemed
  1604. strategically important. Theodore Roosevelt, for example, added a corollary to the
  1605. Monroe Doctrine, declaring that the United States would intervene in any Latin
  1606. American or Caribbean country whose government it deemed not to America’s liking.
  1607. “The United States of America has not the option as to whether it will or it will not play
  1608. a great part in the world,” Roosevelt would argue. “It must play a great part. All that it
  1609. can decide is whether it will play that part well or badly.”
  1611. By the start of the twentieth century, then, the motives that drove U.S. foreign policy
  1612. seemed barely distinguishable from those of the other great powers, driven by
  1613. realpolitik and commercial interests. Isolationist sentiment in the population at large
  1614. remained strong, particularly when it came to conflicts in Europe, and when vital U.S.
  1615. interests did not seem directly at stake. But technology and trade were shrinking the
  1616. globe; determining which interests were vital and which ones were not became
  1617. increasingly difficult. During World War I, Woodrow Wilson avoided American
  1618. involvement until the repeated sinking of American vessels by German U-boats and the
  1619. imminent collapse of the European continent made neutrality untenable. When the war
  1620. was over, America had emerged as the world’s dominant power—but a power whose
  1621. prosperity Wilson now understood to be linked to peace and prosperity in faraway
  1622. lands.
  1624. It was in an effort to address this new reality that Wilson sought to reinterpret the idea
  1625. of America’s manifest destiny. Making “the world safe for democracy” didn’t just
  1626. involve winning a war, he argued; it was in America’s interest to encourage the self-
  1627. determination of all peoples and provide the world a legal framework that could help
  1628. avoid future conflicts. As part of the Treaty of Versailles, which detailed the terms of
  1629. German surrender, Wilson proposed a League of Nations to mediate conflicts between
  1630. nations, along with an international court and a set of international laws that would bind
  1631. not just the weak but also the strong. “This is the time of all others when Democracy
  1632. should prove its purity and its spiritual power to prevail,” Wilson said. “It is surely the
  1633. manifest destiny of the United States to lead in the attempt to make this spirit prevail.”
  1635. Wilson’s proposals were initially greeted with enthusiasm in the United States and
  1636. around the world. The U.S. Senate, however, was less impressed. Republican Senate
  1637. Leader Henry Cabot Lodge considered the League of Nations—and the very concept of
  1638. international law—as an encroachment on American sovereignty, a foolish constraint on
  1639. America’s ability to impose its will around the world. Aided by traditional isolationists
  1640. in both parties (many of whom had opposed American entry into World War I), as well
  1642. as Wilson’s stubborn unwillingness to compromise, the Senate refused to ratify U.S.
  1643. membership in the League.
  1645. For the next twenty years, America turned resolutely inward—reducing its army and
  1646. navy, refusing to join the World Court, standing idly by as Italy, Japan, and Nazi
  1647. Germany built up their military machines. The Senate became a hotbed of isolationism,
  1648. passing a Neutrality Act that prevented the United States from lending assistance to
  1649. countries invaded by the Axis powers, and repeatedly ignoring the President’s appeals
  1650. as Hitler’s armies marched across Europe. Not until the bombing of Pearl Harbor would
  1651. America realize its terrible mistake. “There is no such thing as security for any nation—
  1652. or any individual—in a world ruled by the principles of gangsterism,” FDR would say
  1653. in his national address after the attack. “We cannot measure our safety in terms of miles
  1654. on any map any more.”
  1656. In the aftermath of World War II, the United States would have a chance to apply these
  1657. lessons to its foreign policy. With Europe and Japan in ruins, the Soviet Union bled
  1658. white by its battles on the Eastern Front but already signaling its intentions to spread its
  1659. brand of totalitarian communism as far as it could, America faced a choice. There were
  1660. those on the right who argued that only a unilateral foreign policy and an immediate
  1661. invasion of the Soviet Union could disable the emerging communist threat. And
  1662. although isolationism of the sort that prevailed in the thirties was now thoroughly
  1663. discredited, there were those on the left who downplayed Soviet aggression, arguing
  1664. that given Soviet losses and the country’s critical role in the Allied victory, Stalin
  1665. should be accommodated.
  1667. America took neither path. Instead, the postwar leadership of President Truman, Dean
  1668. Acheson, George Marshall, and George Kennan crafted the architecture of a new,
  1669. postwar order that married Wilson’s idealism to hardheaded realism, an acceptance of
  1670. America’s power with a humility regarding America’s ability to control events around
  1671. the world. Yes, these men argued, the world is a dangerous place, and the Soviet threat
  1672. is real; America needed to maintain its military dominance and be prepared to use force
  1673. in defense of its interests across the globe. But even the power of the United States was
  1674. finite—and because the battle against communism was also a battle of ideas, a test of
  1675. what system might best serve the hopes and dreams of billions of people around the
  1676. world, military might alone could not ensure America’s long-term prosperity or
  1677. security.
  1679. What America needed, then, were stable allies—allies that shared the ideals of freedom,
  1680. democracy, and the rule of law, and that saw themselves as having a stake in a market-
  1681. based economic system. Such alliances, both military and economic, entered into freely
  1682. and maintained by mutual consent, would be more lasting—and stir less resentment—
  1683. than any collection of vassal states American imperialism might secure. Likewise, it
  1684. was in America’s interest to work with other countries to build up international
  1685. institutions and promote international norms. Not because of a naive assumption that
  1686. international laws and treaties alone would end conflicts among nations or eliminate the
  1687. need for American military action, but because the more international norms were
  1688. reinforced and the more America signaled a willingness to show restraint in the exercise
  1689. of its power, the fewer the number of conflicts that would arise—and the more
  1690. legitimate our actions would appear in the eyes of the world when we did have to move
  1691. militarily.
  1693. In less than a decade, the infrastructure of a new world order was in place. There was a
  1694. U.S. policy of containment with respect to communist expansion, backed not just by
  1695. U.S. troops but also by security agreements with NATO and Japan; the Marshall Plan to
  1696. rebuild war-shattered economies; the Bretton Woods agreement to provide stability to
  1697. the world’s financial markets and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade to
  1698. establish rules governing world commerce; U.S. support for the independence of former
  1699. European colonies; the IMF and World Bank to help integrate these newly independent
  1700. nations into the world economy; and the United Nations to provide a forum for
  1701. collective security and international cooperation.
  1703. Sixty years later, we can see the results of this massive postwar undertaking: a
  1704. successful outcome to the Cold War, an avoidance of nuclear catastrophe, the effective
  1705. end of conflict between the world’s great military powers, and an era of unprecedented
  1706. economic growth at home and abroad.
  1708. It’s a remarkable achievement, perhaps the Greatest Generation’s greatest gift to us after
  1709. the victory over fascism. But like any system built by man, it had its flaws and
  1710. contradictions; it could fall victim to the distortions of politics, the sins of hubris, the
  1711. corrupting effects of fear. Because of the enormity of the Soviet threat, and the shock of
  1712. communist takeovers in China and North Korea, American policy makers came to view
  1713. nationalist movements, ethnic struggles, reform efforts, or left-leaning policies
  1714. anywhere in the world through the lens of the Cold War—potential threats they felt
  1715. outweighed our professed commitment to freedom and democracy. For decades we
  1716. would tolerate and even aid thieves like Mobutu, thugs like Noriega, so long as they
  1717. opposed communism. Occasionally U.S. covert operations would engineer the removal
  1718. of democratically elected leaders in countries like Iran—with seismic repercussions that
  1719. haunt us to this day.
  1721. America’s policy of containment also involved an enormous military buildup, matching
  1722. and then exceeding the Soviet and Chinese arsenals. Over time, the “iron triangle” of
  1723. the Pentagon, defense contractors, and congressmen with large defense expenditures in
  1724. their districts amassed great power in shaping U.S. foreign policy. And although the
  1725. threat of nuclear war would preclude direct military confrontation with our superpower
  1726. rivals, U.S policy makers increasingly viewed problems elsewhere in the world through
  1727. a military lens rather than a diplomatic one.
  1729. Most important, the postwar system over time suffered from too much politics and not
  1730. enough deliberation and domestic consensus building. One of America’s strengths
  1731. immediately following the war was a degree of domestic consensus surrounding foreign
  1732. policy. There might have been fierce differences between Republicans and Democrats,
  1733. but politics usually ended at the water’s edge; professionals, whether in the White
  1734. House, the Pentagon, the State Department, or the CIA, were expected to make
  1735. decisions based on facts and sound judgment, not ideology or electioneering. Moreover,
  1736. that consensus extended to the public at large; programs like the Marshall Plan, which
  1737. involved a massive investment of U.S. funds, could not have gone forward without the
  1738. American people’s basic trust in their government, as well as a reciprocal faith on the
  1739. part of government officials that the American people could be trusted with the facts
  1740. that went into decisions that spent their tax dollars or sent their sons to war.
  1742. As the Cold War wore on, the key elements in this consensus began to erode. Politicians
  1743. discovered that they could get votes by being tougher on communism than their
  1744. opponents. Democrats were assailed for “losing China.” McCarthyism destroyed careers
  1745. and crushed dissent. Kennedy would blame Republicans for a “missile gap” that didn’t
  1746. exist on his way to beating Nixon, who himself had made a career of Red-baiting his
  1747. opponents. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson would all find their judgment
  1748. clouded by fear that they would be tagged as “soft on communism.” The Cold War
  1749. techniques of secrecy, snooping, and misinformation, used against foreign governments
  1750. and foreign populations, became tools of domestic politics, a means to harass critics,
  1751. build support for questionable policies, or cover up blunders. The very ideals that we
  1752. had promised to export overseas were being betrayed at home.
  1754. All these trends came to a head in Vietnam. The disastrous consequences of that
  1755. conflict—for our credibility and prestige abroad, for our armed forces (which would
  1756. take a generation to recover), and most of all for those who fought—have been amply
  1757. documented. But perhaps the biggest casualty of that war was the bond of trust between
  1758. the American people and their government—and between Americans themselves. As a
  1759. consequence of a more aggressive press corps and the images of body bags flooding
  1760. into living rooms, Americans began to realize that the best and the brightest in
  1761. Washington didn’t always know what they were doing—and didn’t always tell the truth.
  1762. Increasingly, many on the left voiced opposition not only to the Vietnam War but also
  1763. to the broader aims of American foreign policy. In their view, President Johnson,
  1764. General Westmoreland, the CIA, the “military-industrial complex,” and international
  1765. institutions like the World Bank were all manifestations of American arrogance,
  1766. jingoism, racism, capitalism, and imperialism. Those on the right responded in kind,
  1767. laying responsibility not only for the loss of Vietnam but also for the decline of
  1768. America’s standing in the world squarely on the “blame America first” crowd—the
  1769. protesters, the hippies, Jane Fonda, the Ivy League intellectuals and liberal media who
  1770. denigrated patriotism, embraced a relativistic worldview, and undermined American
  1771. resolve to confront godless communism.
  1773. Admittedly, these were caricatures, promoted by activists and political consultants.
  1774. Many Americans remained somewhere in the middle, still supportive of America’s
  1775. efforts to defeat communism but skeptical of U.S. policies that might involve large
  1776. numbers of American casualties. Throughout the seventies and eighties, one could find
  1777. Democratic hawks and Republican doves; in Congress, there were men like Mark
  1778. Hatfield of Oregon and Sam Nunn of Georgia who sought to perpetuate the tradition of
  1779. a bipartisan foreign policy. But the caricatures were what shaped public impressions
  1780. during election time, as Republicans increasingly portrayed Democrats as weak on
  1781. defense, and those suspicious of military and covert action abroad increasingly made the
  1782. Democratic Party their political home.
  1784. It was against this backdrop—an era of division rather than an era of consensus—that
  1785. most Americans alive today formed whatever views they may have on foreign policy.
  1786. These were the years of Nixon and Kissinger, whose foreign policies were tactically
  1787. brilliant but were overshadowed by domestic policies and a Cambodian bombing
  1788. campaign that were morally rudderless. They were the years of Jimmy Carter, a
  1789. Democrat who—with his emphasis on human rights—seemed prepared to once again
  1790. align moral concerns with a strong defense, until oil shocks, the humiliation of the
  1792. Iranian hostage crisis, and the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan made him seem
  1793. naive and ineffective.
  1795. Looming perhaps largest of all was Ronald Reagan, whose clarity about communism
  1796. seemed matched by his blindness regarding other sources of misery in the world. I
  1797. personally came of age during the Reagan presidency—I was studying international
  1798. affairs at Columbia, and later working as a community organizer in Chicago—and like
  1799. many Democrats in those days I bemoaned the effect of Reagan’s policies toward the
  1800. Third World: his administration’s support for the apartheid regime of South Africa, the
  1801. funding of El Salvador’s death squads, the invasion of tiny, hapless Grenada. The more
  1802. I studied nuclear arms policy, the more I found Star Wars to be ill conceived; the chasm
  1803. between Reagan’s soaring rhetoric and the tawdry Iran-Contra deal left me speechless.
  1805. But at times, in arguments with some of my friends on the left, I would find myself in
  1806. the curious position of defending aspects of Reagan’s worldview. I didn’t understand
  1807. why, for example, progressives should be less concerned about oppression behind the
  1808. Iron Curtain than they were about brutality in Chile. I couldn’t be persuaded that U.S.
  1809. multinationals and international terms of trade were single-handedly responsible for
  1810. poverty around the world; nobody forced corrupt leaders in Third World countries to
  1811. steal from their people. I might have arguments with the size of Reagan’s military
  1812. buildup, but given the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, staying ahead of the Soviets
  1813. militarily seemed a sensible thing to do. Pride in our country, respect for our armed
  1814. services, a healthy appreciation for the dangers beyond our borders, an insistence that
  1815. there was no easy equivalence between East and West—in all this I had no quarrel with
  1816. Reagan. And when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, I had to give the old man his
  1817. due, even if I never gave him my vote.
  1819. Many people—including many Democrats—did give Reagan their vote, leading
  1820. Republicans to argue that his presidency restored America’s foreign policy consensus.
  1821. Of course, that consensus was never really tested; Reagan’s war against communism
  1822. was mainly carried out through proxies and deficit spending, not the deployment of U.S.
  1823. troops. As it was, the end of the Cold War made Reagan’s formula seem ill suited to a
  1824. new world. George H. W. Bush’s return to a more traditional, “realist” foreign policy
  1825. would result in a steady management of the Soviet Union’s dissolution and an able
  1826. handling of the first Gulf War. But with the American public’s attention focused on the
  1827. domestic economy, his skill in building international coalitions or judiciously projecting
  1828. American power did nothing to salvage his presidency.
  1830. By the time Bill Clinton came into office, conventional wisdom suggested that
  1831. America’s post–Cold War foreign policy would be more a matter of trade than tanks,
  1832. protecting American copyrights rather than American lives. Clinton himself understood
  1833. that globalization involved not only new economic challenges but also new security
  1834. challenges. In addition to promoting free trade and bolstering the international financial
  1835. system, his administration would work to end long-festering conflicts in the Balkans
  1836. and Northern Ireland and advance democratization in Eastern Europe, Latin America,
  1837. Africa, and the former Soviet Union. But in the eyes of the public, at least, foreign
  1838. policy in the nineties lacked any overarching theme or grand imperatives. U.S. military
  1839. action in particular seemed entirely a matter of choice, not necessity—the product of our
  1840. desire to slap down rogue states, perhaps; or a function of humanitarian calculations
  1842. regarding the moral obligations we owed to Somalis, Haitians, Bosnians, or other
  1843. unlucky souls.
  1845. Then came September 11—and Americans felt their world turned upside down.
  1849. IN JANUARY 2006, I boarded a C-130 military cargo plane and took off for my first
  1850. trip into Iraq. Two of my colleagues on the trip—Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana and
  1851. Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. of Tennessee—had made the trip before, and they
  1852. warned me that the landings in Baghdad could be a bit uncomfortable: To evade
  1853. potential hostile fire, military flights in and out of Iraq’s capital city engaged in a series
  1854. of sometimes stomach-turning maneuvers. As our plane cruised through the hazy
  1855. morning, though, it was hard to feel concerned. Strapped into canvas seats, most of my
  1856. fellow passengers had fallen asleep, their heads bobbing against the orange webbing
  1857. that ran down the center of the fuselage. One of the crew appeared to be playing a video
  1858. game; another placidly thumbed through our flight plans.
  1860. It had been four and a half years since I’d first heard reports of a plane hitting the World
  1861. Trade Center. I had been in Chicago at the time, driving to a state legislative hearing
  1862. downtown. The reports on my car radio were sketchy, and I assumed that there must
  1863. have been an accident, a small prop plane perhaps veering off course. By the time I
  1864. arrived at my meeting, the second plane had already hit, and we were told to evacuate
  1865. the State of Illinois Building. Up and down the streets, people gathered, staring at the
  1866. sky and at the Sears Tower. Later, in my law office, a group of us sat motionless as the
  1867. nightmare images unfolded across the TV screen—a plane, dark as a shadow, vanishing
  1868. into glass and steel; men and women clinging to windowsills, then letting go; the shouts
  1869. and sobs from below and finally the rolling clouds of dust blotting out the sun.
  1871. I spent the next several weeks as most Americans did—calling friends in New York and
  1872. D.C., sending donations, listening to the President’s speech, mourning the dead. And for
  1873. me, as for most of us, the effect of September 11 felt profoundly personal. It wasn’t just
  1874. the magnitude of the destruction that affected me, or the memories of the five years I’d
  1875. spent in New York—memories of streets and sights now reduced to rubble. Rather, it
  1876. was the intimacy of imagining those ordinary acts that 9/11’s victims must have
  1877. performed in the hours before they were killed, the daily routines that constitute life in
  1878. our modern world—the boarding of a plane, the jostling as we exit a commuter train,
  1879. grabbing coffee and the morning paper at a newsstand, making small talk on the
  1880. elevator. For most Americans, such routines represented a victory of order over chaos,
  1881. the concrete expression of our belief that so long as we exercised, wore seat belts, had a
  1882. job with benefits, and avoided certain neighborhoods, our safety was ensured, our
  1883. families protected.
  1885. Now chaos had come to our doorstep. As a consequence, we would have to act
  1886. differently, understand the world differently. We would have to answer the call of a
  1887. nation. Within a week of the attacks, I watched the Senate vote 98–0 and the House vote
  1888. 420–1 to give the President the authority to “use all necessary and appropriate force
  1889. against those nations, organizations or persons” behind the attacks. Interest in the armed
  1890. services and applications to join the CIA soared, as young people across America
  1891. resolved to serve their country. Nor were we alone. In Paris, Le Monde ran the banner
  1893. headline “Nous sommes tous Américains” (“We are all Americans”). In Cairo, local
  1894. mosques offered prayers of sympathy. For the first time since its founding in 1949,
  1895. NATO invoked Article 5 of its charter, agreeing that the armed attack on one of its
  1896. members “shall be considered an attack against them all.” With justice at our backs and
  1897. the world by our side, we drove the Taliban government out of Kabul in just over a
  1898. month; Al Qaeda operatives fled or were captured or killed.
  1900. It was a good start by the Administration, I thought—steady, measured, and
  1901. accomplished with minimal casualties (only later would we discover the degree to
  1902. which our failure to put sufficient military pressure on Al Qaeda forces at Tora Bora
  1903. may have led to bin Laden’s escape). And so, along with the rest of the world, I waited
  1904. with anticipation for what I assumed would follow: the enunciation of a U.S. foreign
  1905. policy for the twenty-first century, one that would not only adapt our military planning,
  1906. intelligence operations, and homeland defenses to the threat of terrorist networks but
  1907. build a new international consensus around the challenges of transnational threats.
  1909. This new blueprint never arrived. Instead what we got was an assortment of outdated
  1910. policies from eras gone by, dusted off, slapped together, and with new labels affixed.
  1911. Reagan’s “Evil Empire” was now “the Axis of Evil.” Theodore Roosevelt’s version of
  1912. the Monroe Doctrine—the notion that we could preemptively remove governments not
  1913. to our liking—was now the Bush Doctrine, only extended beyond the Western
  1914. Hemisphere to span the globe. Manifest destiny was back in fashion; all that was
  1915. needed, according to Bush, was American firepower, American resolve, and a “coalition
  1916. of the willing.”
  1918. Perhaps worst of all, the Bush Administration resuscitated a brand of politics not seen
  1919. since the end of the Cold War. As the ouster of Saddam Hussein became the test case
  1920. for Bush’s doctrine of preventive war, those who questioned the Administration’s
  1921. rationale for invasion were accused of being “soft on terrorism” or “un-American.”
  1922. Instead of an honest accounting of this military campaign’s pros and cons, the
  1923. Administration initiated a public relations offensive: shading intelligence reports to
  1924. support its case, grossly understating both the costs and the manpower requirements of
  1925. military action, raising the specter of mushroom clouds.
  1927. The PR strategy worked; by the fall of 2002, a majority of Americans were convinced
  1928. that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, and at least 66 percent
  1929. believed (falsely) that the Iraqi leader had been personally involved in the 9/11 attacks.
  1930. Support for an invasion of Iraq—and Bush’s approval rating—hovered around 60
  1931. percent. With an eye on the midterm elections, Republicans stepped up the attacks and
  1932. pushed for a vote authorizing the use of force against Saddam Hussein. And on October
  1933. 11, 2002, twenty-eight of the Senate’s fifty Democrats joined all but one Republican in
  1934. handing to Bush the power he wanted.
  1936. I was disappointed in that vote, although sympathetic to the pressures Democrats were
  1937. under. I had felt some of those same pressures myself. By the fall of 2002, I had already
  1938. decided to run for the U.S. Senate and knew that possible war with Iraq would loom
  1939. large in any campaign. When a group of Chicago activists asked if I would speak at a
  1940. large antiwar rally planned for October, a number of my friends warned me against
  1941. taking so public a position on such a volatile issue. Not only was the idea of an invasion
  1942. increasingly popular, but on the merits I didn’t consider the case against war to be cut-
  1944. and-dried. Like most analysts, I assumed that Saddam had chemical and biological
  1945. weapons and coveted nuclear arms. I believed that he had repeatedly flouted UN
  1946. resolutions and weapons inspectors and that such behavior had to have consequences.
  1947. That Saddam butchered his own people was undisputed; I had no doubt that the world,
  1948. and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.
  1950. What I sensed, though, was that the threat Saddam posed was not imminent, the
  1951. Administration’s rationales for war were flimsy and ideologically driven, and the war in
  1952. Afghanistan was far from complete. And I was certain that by choosing precipitous,
  1953. unilateral military action over the hard slog of diplomacy, coercive inspections, and
  1954. smart sanctions, America was missing an opportunity to build a broad base of support
  1955. for its policies.
  1957. And so I made the speech. To the two thousand people gathered in Chicago’s Federal
  1958. Plaza, I explained that unlike some of the people in the crowd, I didn’t oppose all
  1959. wars—that my grandfather had signed up for the war the day after Pearl Harbor was
  1960. bombed and had fought in Patton’s army. I also said that “after witnessing the carnage
  1961. and destruction, the dust and the tears, I supported this Administration’s pledge to hunt
  1962. down and root out those who would slaughter innocents in the name of intolerance” and
  1963. would “willingly take up arms myself to prevent such tragedy from happening again.”
  1965. What I could not support was “a dumb war, a rash war, a war based not on reason but
  1966. on passion, not on principle but on politics.” And I said:
  1970. I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of
  1971. undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know
  1972. that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international
  1973. support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather
  1974. than the best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of Al
  1975. Qaeda.
  1979. The speech was well received; activists began circulating the text on the Internet, and I
  1980. established a reputation for speaking my mind on hard issues—a reputation that would
  1981. carry me through a tough Democratic primary. But I had no way of knowing at the time
  1982. whether my assessment of the situation in Iraq was correct. When the invasion was
  1983. finally launched and U.S. forces marched unimpeded through Baghdad, when I saw
  1984. Saddam’s statue topple and watched the President stand atop the U.S.S. Abraham
  1985. Lincoln, a banner behind him proclaiming “Mission Accomplished,” I began to suspect
  1986. that I might have been wrong—and was relieved to see the low number of American
  1987. casualties involved.
  1989. And now, three years later—as the number of American deaths passed two thousand
  1990. and the number of wounded passed sixteen thousand; after $250 billion in direct
  1991. spending and hundreds of billions more in future years to pay off the resulting debt and
  1992. care for disabled veterans; after two Iraqi national elections, one Iraqi constitutional
  1993. referendum, and tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths; after watching anti-American
  1995. sentiment rise to record levels around the world and Afghanistan begin to slip back into
  1996. chaos—I was flying into Baghdad as a member of the Senate, partially responsible for
  1997. trying to figure out just what to do with this mess.
  1999. The landing at Baghdad International Airport turned out not to be so bad—although I
  2000. was thankful that we couldn’t see out the windows as the C-130 bucked and banked and
  2001. dipped its way down. Our escort officer from the State Department was there to greet
  2002. us, along with an assortment of military personnel with rifles slung over their shoulders.
  2003. After getting our security briefing, recording our blood types, and being fitted for
  2004. helmets and Kevlar vests, we boarded two Black Hawk helicopters and headed for the
  2005. Green Zone, flying low, passing over miles of mostly muddy, barren fields crisscrossed
  2006. by narrow roads and punctuated by small groves of date trees and squat concrete
  2007. shelters, many of them seemingly empty, some bulldozed down to their foundations.
  2008. Eventually Baghdad came into view, a sand-colored metropolis set in a circular pattern,
  2009. the Tigris River cutting a broad, murky swath down its center. Even from the air the city
  2010. looked worn and battered, the traffic on the streets intermittent—although almost every
  2011. rooftop was cluttered with satellite dishes, which along with cell phone service had been
  2012. touted by U.S. officials as one of the successes of the reconstruction.
  2014. I would spend only a day and a half in Iraq, most of it in the Green Zone, a ten-mile-
  2015. wide area of central Baghdad that had once been the heart of Saddam Hussein’s
  2016. government but was now a U.S.-controlled compound, surrounded along its perimeter
  2017. by blast walls and barbed wire. Reconstruction teams briefed us about the difficulty of
  2018. maintaining electrical power and oil production in the face of insurgent sabotage;
  2019. intelligence officers described the growing threat of sectarian militias and their
  2020. infiltration of Iraqi security forces. Later, we met with members of the Iraqi Election
  2021. Commission, who spoke with enthusiasm about the high turnout during the recent
  2022. election, and for an hour we listened to U.S. Ambassador Khalilzad, a shrewd, elegant
  2023. man with world-weary eyes, explain the delicate shuttle diplomacy in which he was
  2024. now engaged, to bring Shi’ite, Sunni, and Kurdish factions into some sort of workable
  2025. unity government.
  2027. In the afternoon we had an opportunity to have lunch with some of the troops in the
  2028. huge mess hall just off the swimming pool of what had once been Saddam’s presidential
  2029. palace. They were a mix of regular forces, reservists, and National Guard units, from
  2030. big cities and small towns, blacks and whites and Latinos, many of them on their second
  2031. or third tour of duty. They spoke with pride as they told us what their units had
  2032. accomplished—building schools, protecting electrical facilities, leading newly trained
  2033. Iraqi soldiers on patrol, maintaining supply lines to those in far-flung regions of the
  2034. country. Again and again, I was asked the same question: Why did the U.S. press only
  2035. report on bombings and killings? There was progress being made, they insisted—I
  2036. needed to let the folks back home know that their work was not in vain.
  2038. It was easy, talking to these men and women, to understand their frustration, for all the
  2039. Americans I met in Iraq, whether military or civilian, impressed me with their
  2040. dedication, their skill, and their frank acknowledgment not only of the mistakes that had
  2041. been made but also of the difficulties of the task that still lay ahead. Indeed, the entire
  2042. enterprise in Iraq bespoke American ingenuity, wealth, and technical know-how;
  2043. standing inside the Green Zone or any of the large operating bases in Iraq and Kuwait,
  2044. one could only marvel at the ability of our government to essentially erect entire cities
  2046. within hostile territory, self-contained communities with their own power and sewage
  2047. systems, computer lines and wireless networks, basketball courts and ice cream stands.
  2048. More than that, one was reminded of that unique quality of American optimism that
  2049. everywhere was on display—the absence of cynicism despite the danger, sacrifice, and
  2050. seemingly interminable setbacks, the insistence that at the end of the day our actions
  2051. would result in a better life for a nation of people we barely knew.
  2053. And yet, three conversations during the course of my visit would remind me of just how
  2054. quixotic our efforts in Iraq still seemed—how, with all the American blood, treasure,
  2055. and the best of intentions, the house we were building might be resting on quicksand.
  2056. The first conversation took place in the early evening, when our delegation held a press
  2057. conference with a group of foreign correspondents stationed in Baghdad. After the
  2058. Q&A session, I asked the reporters if they’d stay for an informal, off-the-record
  2059. conversation. I was interested, I said, in getting some sense of life outside the Green
  2060. Zone. They were happy to oblige, but insisted they could only stay for forty-five
  2061. minutes—it was getting late, and like most residents of Baghdad, they generally
  2062. avoided traveling once the sun went down.
  2064. As a group, they were young, mostly in their twenties and early thirties, all of them
  2065. dressed casually enough that they could pass for college students. Their faces, though,
  2066. showed the stresses they were under—sixty journalists had already been killed in Iraq
  2067. by that time. Indeed, at the start of our conversation they apologized for being
  2068. somewhat distracted; they had just received word that one of their colleagues, a reporter
  2069. with the Christian Science Monitor named Jill Carroll, had been abducted, her driver
  2070. found killed on the side of a road. Now they were all working their contacts, trying to
  2071. track down her whereabouts. Such violence wasn’t unusual in Baghdad these days, they
  2072. said, although Iraqis overwhelmingly bore the brunt of it. Fighting between Shi’ites and
  2073. Sunnis had become widespread, less strategic, less comprehensible, more frightening.
  2074. None of them thought that the elections would bring about significant improvement in
  2075. the security situation. I asked them if they thought a U.S. troop withdrawal might ease
  2076. tensions, expecting them to answer in the affirmative. Instead, they shook their heads.
  2078. “My best guess is the country would collapse into civil war within weeks,” one of the
  2079. reporters told me. “One hundred, maybe two hundred thousand dead. We’re the only
  2080. thing holding this place together.”
  2082. That night, our delegation accompanied Ambassador Khalilzad for dinner at the home
  2083. of Iraqi interim President Jalal Tala-bani. Security was tight as our convoy wound its
  2084. way past a maze of barricades out of the Green Zone; outside, our route was lined with
  2085. U.S. troops at one-block intervals, and we were instructed to keep our vests and helmets
  2086. on for the duration of the drive.
  2088. After ten minutes we arrived at a large villa, where we were greeted by the president
  2089. and several members of the Iraqi interim government. They were all heavyset men,
  2090. most in their fifties or sixties, with broad smiles but eyes that betrayed no emotion. I
  2091. recognized only one of the ministers—Mr. Ahmed Chalabi, the Western-educated
  2092. Shi’ite who, as a leader of the exile group the Iraqi National Congress, had reportedly
  2093. fed U.S. intelligence agencies and Bush policy makers some of the prewar information
  2094. on which the decision to invade was made—information for which Chalabi’s group had
  2095. received millions of dollars, and that had turned out to be bogus. Since then Chalabi had
  2097. fallen out with his U.S. patrons; there were reports that he had steered U.S. classified
  2098. information to the Iranians, and that Jordan still had a warrant out for his arrest after
  2099. he’d been convicted in absentia on thirty-one charges of embezzlement, theft, misuse of
  2100. depositor funds, and currency speculation. But he appeared to have landed on his feet;
  2101. immaculately dressed, accompanied by his grown daughter, he was now the interim
  2102. government’s acting oil minister.
  2104. I didn’t speak much to Chalabi during dinner. Instead I was seated next to the former
  2105. interim finance minister. He seemed impressive, speaking knowledgeably about Iraq’s
  2106. economy, its need to improve transparency and strengthen its legal framework to attract
  2107. foreign investment. At the end of the evening, I mentioned my favorable impression to
  2108. one of the embassy staff.
  2110. “He’s smart, no doubt about it,” the staffer said. “Of course, he’s also one of the leaders
  2111. of the SCIRI Party. They control the Ministry of the Interior, which controls the police.
  2112. And the police, well…there have been problems with militia infiltration. Accusations
  2113. that they’re grabbing Sunni leaders, bodies found the next morning, that kind of
  2114. thing…” The staffer’s voice trailed off, and he shrugged. “We work with what we
  2115. have.”
  2117. I had difficulty sleeping that night; instead, I watched the Redskins game, piped in live
  2118. via satellite to the pool house once reserved for Saddam and his guests. Several times I
  2119. muted the TV and heard mortar fire pierce the silence. The following morning, we took
  2120. a Black Hawk to the Marine base in Fallujah, out in the arid, western portion of Iraq
  2121. called Anbar Province. Some of the fiercest fighting against the insurgency had taken
  2122. place in Sunni-dominated Anbar, and the atmosphere in the camp was considerably
  2123. grimmer than in the Green Zone; just the previous day, five Marines on patrol had been
  2124. killed by roadside bombs or small-arms fire. The troops here looked rawer as well, most
  2125. of them in their early twenties, many still with pimples and the unformed bodies of
  2126. teenagers.
  2128. The general in charge of the camp had arranged a briefing, and we listened as the
  2129. camp’s senior officers explained the dilemma facing U.S. forces: With improved
  2130. capabilities, they were arresting more and more insurgent leaders each day, but like
  2131. street gangs back in Chicago, for every insurgent they arrested, there seemed to be two
  2132. ready to take his place. Economics, and not just politics, seemed to be feeding the
  2133. insurgency—the central government had been neglecting Anbar, and male
  2134. unemployment hovered around 70 percent.
  2136. “For two or three dollars, you can pay some kid to plant a bomb,” one of the officers
  2137. said. “That’s a lot of money out here.”
  2139. By the end of the briefing, a light fog had rolled in, delaying our flight to Kirkuk. While
  2140. waiting, my foreign policy staffer, Mark Lippert, wandered off to chat with one of the
  2141. unit’s senior officers, while I struck up a conversation with one of the majors
  2142. responsible for counterinsurgency strategy in the region. He was a soft-spoken man,
  2143. short and with glasses; it was easy to imagine him as a high school math teacher. In fact,
  2144. it turned out that before joining the Marines he had spent several years in the
  2145. Philippines as a member of the Peace Corps. Many of the lessons he had learned there
  2146. needed to be applied to the military’s work in Iraq, he told me. He didn’t have anywhere
  2148. near the number of Arabic-speakers needed to build trust with the local population. We
  2149. needed to improve cultural sensitivity within U.S. forces, develop long-term
  2150. relationships with local leaders, and couple security forces to reconstruction teams, so
  2151. that Iraqis could see concrete benefits from U.S. efforts. All this would take time, he
  2152. said, but he could already see changes for the better as the military adopted these
  2153. practices throughout the country.
  2155. Our escort officer signaled that the chopper was ready to take off. I wished the major
  2156. luck and headed for the van. Mark came up beside me, and I asked him what he’d
  2157. learned from his conversation with the senior officer.
  2159. “I asked him what he thought we needed to do to best deal with the situation.”
  2161. “What did he say?”
  2163. “Leave.”
  2167. THE STORY OF America’s involvement in Iraq will be analyzed and debated for many
  2168. years to come—indeed, it’s a story that’s still being written. At the moment, the
  2169. situation there has deteriorated to the point where it appears that a low-grade civil war
  2170. has begun, and while I believe that all Americans—regardless of their views on the
  2171. original decision to invade—have an interest in seeing a decent outcome in Iraq, I
  2172. cannot honestly say that I am optimistic about Iraq’s short-term prospects.
  2174. I do know that at this stage it will be politics—the calculations of those hard,
  2175. unsentimental men with whom I had dinner—and not the application of American force
  2176. that determines what happens in Iraq. I believe as well that our strategic goals at this
  2177. point should be well defined: achieving some semblance of stability in Iraq, ensuring
  2178. that those in power in Iraq are not hostile to the United States, and preventing Iraq from
  2179. becoming a base for terrorist activity. In pursuit of these goals, I believe it is in the
  2180. interest of both Americans and Iraqis to begin a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops by the
  2181. end of 2006, although how quickly a complete withdrawal can be accomplished is a
  2182. matter of imperfect judgment, based on a series of best guesses—about the ability of the
  2183. Iraqi government to deliver even basic security and services to its people, the degree to
  2184. which our presence drives the insurgency, and the odds that in the absence of U.S.
  2185. troops Iraq would descend into all-out civil war. When battle-hardened Marine officers
  2186. suggest we pull out and skeptical foreign correspondents suggest that we stay, there are
  2187. no easy answers to be had.
  2189. Still, it’s not too early to draw some conclusions from our actions in Iraq. For our
  2190. difficulties there don’t just arise as a result of bad execution. They reflect a failure of
  2191. conception. The fact is, close to five years after 9/11 and fifteen years after the breakup
  2192. of the Soviet Union, the United States still lacks a coherent national security policy.
  2193. Instead of guiding principles, we have what appear to be a series of ad hoc decisions,
  2194. with dubious results. Why invade Iraq and not North Korea or Burma? Why intervene
  2195. in Bosnia and not Darfur? Are our goals in Iran regime change, the dismantling of all
  2196. Iranian nuclear capability, the prevention of nuclear proliferation, or all three? Are we
  2197. committed to use force wherever there’s a despotic regime that’s terrorizing its
  2199. people—and if so, how long do we stay to ensure democracy takes root? How do we
  2200. treat countries like China that are liberalizing economically but not politically? Do we
  2201. work through the United Nations on all issues or only when the UN is willing to ratify
  2202. decisions we’ve already made?
  2204. Perhaps someone inside the White House has clear answers to these questions. But our
  2205. allies—and for that matter our enemies—certainly don’t know what those answers are.
  2206. More important, neither do the American people. Without a well-articulated strategy
  2207. that the public supports and the world understands, America will lack the legitimacy—
  2208. and ultimately the power—it needs to make the world safer than it is today. We need a
  2209. revised foreign policy framework that matches the boldness and scope of Truman’s
  2210. post–World War II policies—one that addresses both the challenges and the
  2211. opportunities of a new millennium, one that guides our use of force and expresses our
  2212. deepest ideals and commitments.
  2214. I don’t presume to have this grand strategy in my hip pocket. But I know what I believe,
  2215. and I’d suggest a few things that the American people should be able to agree on,
  2216. starting points for a new consensus.
  2218. To begin with, we should understand that any return to isolationism—or a foreign
  2219. policy approach that denies the occasional need to deploy U.S. troops—will not work.
  2220. The impulse to withdraw from the world remains a strong undercurrent in both parties,
  2221. particularly when U.S. casualties are at stake. After the bodies of U.S. soldiers were
  2222. dragged through the streets of Mogadishu in 1993, for example, Republicans accused
  2223. President Clinton of squandering U.S. forces on ill-conceived missions; it was partly
  2224. because of the experience in Somalia that candidate George W. Bush vowed in the 2000
  2225. election never again to expend American military resources on “nation building.”
  2226. Understandably, the Bush Administration’s actions in Iraq have produced a much
  2227. bigger backlash. According to a Pew Research Center poll, almost five years after the
  2228. 9/11 attacks, 46 percent of Americans have concluded that the United States should
  2229. “mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they
  2230. can on their own.”
  2232. The reaction has been particularly severe among liberals, who see in Iraq a repeat of the
  2233. mistakes America made in Vietnam. Frustration with Iraq and the questionable tactics
  2234. the Administration used to make its case for the war has even led many on the left to
  2235. downplay the threat posed by terrorists and nuclear proliferators; according to a January
  2236. 2005 poll, self-identified conservatives were 29 points more likely than liberals to
  2237. identify destroying Al Qaeda as one of their top foreign policy goals, and 26 points
  2238. more likely to mention denying nuclear weapons to hostile groups or nations. The top
  2239. three foreign policy objectives among liberals, on the other hand, were withdrawing
  2240. troops from Iraq, stopping the spread of AIDS, and working more closely with our
  2241. allies.
  2243. The objectives favored by liberals have merit. But they hardly constitute a coherent
  2244. national security policy. It’s useful to remind ourselves, then, that Osama bin Laden is
  2245. not Ho Chi Minh, and that the threats facing the United States today are real, multiple,
  2246. and potentially devastating. Our recent policies have made matters worse, but if we
  2247. pulled out of Iraq tomorrow, the United States would still be a target, given its dominant
  2248. position in the existing international order. Of course, conservatives are just as
  2250. misguided if they think we can simply eliminate “the evildoers” and then let the world
  2251. fend for itself. Globalization makes our economy, our health, and our security all
  2252. captive to events on the other side of the world. And no other nation on earth has a
  2253. greater capacity to shape that global system, or to build consensus around a new set of
  2254. international rules that expand the zones of freedom, personal safety, and economic
  2255. well-being. Like it or not, if we want to make America more secure, we are going to
  2256. have to help make the world more secure.
  2258. The second thing we need to recognize is that the security environment we face today is
  2259. fundamentally different from the one that existed fifty, twenty-five, or even ten years
  2260. ago. When Truman, Acheson, Kennan, and Marshall sat down to design the architecture
  2261. of the post–World War II order, their frame of reference was the competition between
  2262. the great powers that had dominated the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In that
  2263. world, America’s greatest threats came from expansionist states like Nazi Germany or
  2264. Soviet Russia, which could deploy large armies and powerful arsenals to invade key
  2265. territories, restrict our access to critical resources, and dictate the terms of world trade.
  2267. That world no longer exists. The integration of Germany and Japan into a world system
  2268. of liberal democracies and free-market economies effectively eliminated the threat of
  2269. great-power conflicts inside the free world. The advent of nuclear weapons and “mutual
  2270. assured destruction” rendered the risk of war between the United States and the Soviet
  2271. Union fairly remote even before the Berlin Wall fell. Today, the world’s most powerful
  2272. nations (including, to an ever-increasing extent, China)—and, just as important, the vast
  2273. majority of the people who live within these nations—are largely committed to a
  2274. common set of international rules governing trade, economic policy, and the legal and
  2275. diplomatic resolution of disputes, even if broader notions of liberty and democracy
  2276. aren’t widely observed within their own borders.
  2278. The growing threat, then, comes primarily from those parts of the world on the margins
  2279. of the global economy where the international “rules of the road” have not taken hold—
  2280. the realm of weak or failing states, arbitrary rule, corruption, and chronic violence;
  2281. lands in which an overwhelming majority of the population is poor, uneducated, and cut
  2282. off from the global information grid; places where the rulers fear globalization will
  2283. loosen their hold on power, undermine traditional cultures, or displace indigenous
  2284. institutions.
  2286. In the past, there was the perception that America could perhaps safely ignore nations
  2287. and individuals in these disconnected regions. They might be hostile to our worldview,
  2288. nationalize a U.S. business, cause a spike in commodity prices, fall into the Soviet or
  2289. Communist Chinese orbit, or even attack U.S. embassies or military personnel
  2290. overseas—but they could not strike us where we live. September 11 showed that’s no
  2291. longer the case. The very interconnectivity that increasingly binds the world together
  2292. has empowered those who would tear that world down. Terrorist networks can spread
  2293. their doctrines in the blink of an eye; they can probe the world economic system’s
  2294. weakest links, knowing that an attack in London or Tokyo will reverberate in New York
  2295. or Hong Kong; weapons and technology that were once the exclusive province of
  2296. nation-states can now be purchased on the black market, or their designs downloaded
  2297. off the Internet; the free travel of people and goods across borders, the lifeblood of the
  2298. global economy, can be exploited for murderous ends.
  2300. If nation-states no longer have a monopoly on mass violence; if in fact nation-states are
  2301. increasingly less likely to launch a direct attack on us, since they have a fixed address to
  2302. which we can deliver a response; if instead the fastest-growing threats are
  2303. transnational—terrorist networks intent on repelling or disrupting the forces of
  2304. globalization, potential pandemic disease like avian flu, or catastrophic changes in the
  2305. earth’s climate—then how should our national security strategy adapt?
  2307. For starters, our defense spending and the force structure of our military should reflect
  2308. the new reality. Since the outset of the Cold War, our ability to deter nation-to-nation
  2309. aggression has to a large extent underwritten security for every country that commits
  2310. itself to international rules and norms. With the only blue-water navy that patrols the
  2311. entire globe, it is our ships that keep the sea lanes clear. And it is our nuclear umbrella
  2312. that prevented Europe and Japan from entering the arms race during the Cold War, and
  2313. that—until recently, at least—has led most countries to conclude that nukes aren’t worth
  2314. the trouble. So long as Russia and China retain their own large military forces and
  2315. haven’t fully rid themselves of the instinct to throw their weight around—and so long as
  2316. a handful of rogue states are willing to attack other sovereign nations, as Saddam
  2317. attacked Kuwait in 1991—there will be times when we must again play the role of the
  2318. world’s reluctant sheriff. This will not change—nor should it.
  2320. On the other hand, it’s time we acknowledge that a defense budget and force structure
  2321. built principally around the prospect of World War III makes little strategic sense. The
  2322. U.S. military and defense budget in 2005 topped $522 billion—more than that of the
  2323. next thirty countries combined. The United States’ GDP is greater than that of the two
  2324. largest countries and fastest-growing economies—China and India—combined. We
  2325. need to maintain a strategic force posture that allows us to manage threats posed by
  2326. rogue nations like North Korea and Iran and to meet the challenges presented by
  2327. potential rivals like China. Indeed, given the depletion of our forces after the wars in
  2328. Iraq and Afghanistan, we will probably need a somewhat higher budget in the
  2329. immediate future just to restore readiness and replace equipment.
  2331. But our most complex military challenge will not be staying ahead of China (just as our
  2332. biggest challenge with China may well be economic rather than military). More likely,
  2333. that challenge will involve putting boots on the ground in the ungoverned or hostile
  2334. regions where terrorists thrive. That requires a smarter balance between what we spend
  2335. on fancy hardware and what we spend on our men and women in uniform. That should
  2336. mean growing the size of our armed forces to maintain reasonable rotation schedules,
  2337. keeping our troops properly equipped, and training them in the language,
  2338. reconstruction, intelligence-gathering, and peacekeeping skills they’ll need to succeed
  2339. in increasingly complex and difficult missions.
  2341. A change in the makeup of our military won’t be enough, though. In coping with the
  2342. asymmetrical threats that we’ll face in the future—from terrorist networks and the
  2343. handful of states that support them—the structure of our armed forces will ultimately
  2344. matter less than how we decide to use those forces. The United States won the Cold
  2345. War not simply because it outgunned the Soviet Union but because American values
  2346. held sway in the court of international public opinion, which included those who lived
  2347. within communist regimes. Even more than was true during the Cold War, the struggle
  2348. against Islamic-based terrorism will be not simply a military campaign but a battle for
  2349. public opinion in the Islamic world, among our allies, and in the United States. Osama
  2351. bin Laden understands that he cannot defeat or even incapacitate the United States in a
  2352. conventional war. What he and his allies can do is inflict enough pain to provoke a
  2353. reaction of the sort we’ve seen in Iraq—a botched and ill-advised U.S. military
  2354. incursion into a Muslim country, which in turn spurs on insurgencies based on religious
  2355. sentiment and nationalist pride, which in turn necessitates a lengthy and difficult U.S.
  2356. occupation, which in turn leads to an escalating death toll on the part of U.S. troops and
  2357. the local civilian population. All of this fans anti-American sentiment among Muslims,
  2358. increases the pool of potential terrorist recruits, and prompts the American public to
  2359. question not only the war but also those policies that project us into the Islamic world in
  2360. the first place.
  2362. That’s the plan for winning a war from a cave, and so far, at least, we are playing to
  2363. script. To change that script, we’ll need to make sure that any exercise of American
  2364. military power helps rather than hinders our broader goals: to incapacitate the
  2365. destructive potential of terrorist networks and win this global battle of ideas.
  2367. What does this mean in practical terms? We should start with the premise that the
  2368. United States, like all sovereign nations, has the unilateral right to defend itself against
  2369. attack. As such, our campaign to take out Al Qaeda base camps and the Taliban regime
  2370. that harbored them was entirely justified—and was viewed as legitimate even in most
  2371. Islamic countries. It may be preferable to have the support of our allies in such military
  2372. campaigns, but our immediate safety can’t be held hostage to the desire for international
  2373. consensus; if we have to go it alone, then the American people stand ready to pay any
  2374. price and bear any burden to protect our country.
  2376. I would also argue that we have the right to take unilateral military action to eliminate
  2377. an imminent threat to our security—so long as an imminent threat is understood to be a
  2378. nation, group, or individual that is actively preparing to strike U.S. targets (or allies with
  2379. which the United States has mutual defense agreements), and has or will have the means
  2380. to do so in the immediate future. Al Qaeda qualifies under this standard, and we can and
  2381. should carry out preemptive strikes against them wherever we can. Iraq under Saddam
  2382. Hussein did not meet this standard, which is why our invasion was such a strategic
  2383. blunder. If we are going to act unilaterally, then we had better have the goods on our
  2384. targets.
  2386. Once we get beyond matters of self-defense, though, I’m convinced that it will almost
  2387. always be in our strategic interest to act multilaterally rather than unilaterally when we
  2388. use force around the world. By this, I do not mean that the UN Security Council—a
  2389. body that in its structure and rules too often appears frozen in a Cold War–era time
  2390. warp—should have a veto over our actions. Nor do I mean that we round up the United
  2391. Kingdom and Togo and then do what we please. Acting multilaterally means doing
  2392. what George H. W. Bush and his team did in the first Gulf War—engaging in the hard
  2393. diplomatic work of obtaining most of the world’s support for our actions, and making
  2394. sure our actions serve to further recognize international norms.
  2396. Why conduct ourselves in this way? Because nobody benefits more than we do from the
  2397. observance of international “rules of the road.” We can’t win converts to those rules if
  2398. we act as if they apply to everyone but us. When the world’s sole superpower willingly
  2399. restrains its power and abides by internationally agreed-upon standards of conduct, it
  2401. sends a message that these are rules worth following, and robs terrorists and dictators of
  2402. the argument that these rules are simply tools of American imperialism.
  2404. Obtaining global buy-in also allows the United States to carry a lighter load when
  2405. military action is required and enhances the chances for success. Given the
  2406. comparatively modest defense budgets of most of our allies, sharing the military burden
  2407. may in some cases prove a bit of an illusion, but in the Balkans and Afghanistan, our
  2408. NATO partners have indeed shouldered their share of the risks and costs. Additionally,
  2409. for the types of conflicts in which we’re most likely to find ourselves engaged, the
  2410. initial military operation will often be less complex and costly than the work that
  2411. follows—training local police forces, restoring electricity and water services, building a
  2412. working judicial system, fostering an independent media, setting up a public health
  2413. infrastructure, and planning elections. Allies can help pay the freight and provide
  2414. expertise for these critical efforts, as they have in the Balkans and Afghanistan, but they
  2415. are far more likely to do so if our actions have gained international support on the front
  2416. end. In military parlance, legitimacy is a “force multiplier.”
  2418. Just as important, the painstaking process of building coalitions forces us to listen to
  2419. other points of view and therefore look before we leap. When we’re not defending
  2420. ourselves against a direct and imminent threat, we will often have the benefit of time;
  2421. our military power becomes just one tool among many (albeit an extraordinarily
  2422. important one) to influence events and advance our interests in the world—interests in
  2423. maintaining access to key energy sources, keeping financial markets stable, seeing
  2424. international boundaries respected, and preventing genocide. In pursuit of those
  2425. interests, we should be engaging in some hardheaded analysis of the costs and benefits
  2426. of the use of force compared to the other tools of influence at our disposal.
  2428. Is cheap oil worth the costs—in blood and treasure—of war? Will our military
  2429. intervention in a particular ethnic dispute lead to a permanent political settlement or an
  2430. indefinite commitment of U.S. forces? Can our dispute with a country be settled
  2431. diplomatically or through a coordinated series of sanctions? If we hope to win the
  2432. broader battle of ideas, then world opinion must enter into this calculus. And while it
  2433. may be frustrating at times to hear anti-American posturing from European allies that
  2434. enjoy the blanket of our protection, or to hear speeches in the UN General Assembly
  2435. designed to obfuscate, distract, or excuse inaction, it’s just possible that beneath all the
  2436. rhetoric are perspectives that can illuminate the situation and help us make better
  2437. strategic decisions.
  2439. Finally, by engaging our allies, we give them joint ownership over the difficult,
  2440. methodical, vital, and necessarily collaborative work of limiting the terrorists’ capacity
  2441. to inflict harm. That work includes shutting down terrorist financial networks and
  2442. sharing intelligence to hunt down terrorist suspects and infiltrate their cells; our
  2443. continued failure to effectively coordinate intelligence gathering even among various
  2444. U.S. agencies, as well as our continued lack of effective human intelligence capacity, is
  2445. inexcusable. Most important, we need to join forces to keep weapons of mass
  2446. destruction out of terrorist hands.
  2448. One of the best examples of such collaboration was pioneered in the nineties by
  2449. Republican Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana and former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn
  2450. of Georgia, two men who understood the need to nurture coalitions before crises strike,
  2452. and who applied this knowledge to the critical problem of nuclear proliferation. The
  2453. premise of what came to be known as the Nunn-Lugar program was simple: After the
  2454. fall of the Soviet Union, the biggest threat to the United States—aside from an
  2455. accidental launch—wasn’t a first strike ordered by Gorbachev or Yeltsin, but the
  2456. migration of nuclear material or know-how into the hands of terrorists and rogue states,
  2457. a possible result of Russia’s economic tailspin, corruption in the military, the
  2458. impoverishment of Russian scientists, and security and control systems that had fallen
  2459. into disrepair. Under Nunn-Lugar, America basically provided the resources to fix up
  2460. those systems, and although the program caused some consternation to those
  2461. accustomed to Cold War thinking, it has proven to be one of the most important
  2462. investments we could have made to protect ourselves from catastrophe.
  2464. In August 2005, I traveled with Senator Lugar to see some of this handiwork. It was my
  2465. first trip to Russia and Ukraine, and I couldn’t have had a better guide than Dick, a
  2466. remarkably fit seventy-three-year-old with a gentle, imperturbable manner and an
  2467. inscrutable smile that served him well during the often interminable meetings we held
  2468. with foreign officials. Together we visited the nuclear facilities of Saratov, where
  2469. Russian generals pointed with pride to the new fencing and security systems that had
  2470. been recently completed; afterward, they served us a lunch of borscht, vodka, potato
  2471. stew, and a deeply troubling fish Jell-O mold. In Perm, at a site where SS-24 and SS-25
  2472. tactical missiles were being dismantled, we walked through the center of eight-foot-high
  2473. empty missile casings and gazed in silence at the massive, sleek, still-active missiles
  2474. that were now warehoused safely but had once been aimed at the cities of Europe.
  2476. And in a quiet, residential neighborhood of Kiev, we received a tour of the Ukraine’s
  2477. version of the Centers for Disease Control, a modest three-story facility that looked like
  2478. a high school science lab. At one point during our tour, after seeing windows open for
  2479. lack of air-conditioning and metal strips crudely bolted to door jambs to keep out mice,
  2480. we were guided to a small freezer secured by nothing more than a seal of string. A
  2481. middle-aged woman in a lab coat and surgical mask pulled a few test tubes from the
  2482. freezer, waving them around a foot from my face and saying something in Ukrainian.
  2484. “That is anthrax,” the translator explained, pointing to the vial in the woman’s right
  2485. hand. “That one,” he said, pointing to the one in the left hand, “is the plague.”
  2487. I looked behind me and noticed Lugar standing toward the back of the room.
  2489. “You don’t want a closer look, Dick?” I asked, taking a few steps back myself.
  2491. “Been there, done that,” he said with a smile.
  2493. There were moments during our travels when we were reminded of the old Cold War
  2494. days. At the airport in Perm, for example, a border officer in his early twenties detained
  2495. us for three hours because we wouldn’t let him search our plane, leading our staffs to
  2496. fire off telephone calls to the U.S. embassy and Russia’s foreign affairs ministry in
  2497. Moscow. And yet most of what we heard and saw—the Calvin Klein store and Maserati
  2498. showroom in Red Square Mall; the motorcade of SUVs that pulled up in front of a
  2499. restaurant, driven by burly men with ill-fitting suits who once might have rushed to
  2500. open the door for Kremlin officials but were now on the security detail of one of
  2501. Russia’s billionaire oligarchs; the throngs of sullen teenagers in T-shirts and low-riding
  2503. jeans, sharing cigarettes and the music on their iPods as they wandered Kiev’s graceful
  2504. boulevards—underscored the seemingly irreversible process of economic, if not
  2505. political, integration between East and West.
  2507. That was part of the reason, I sensed, why Lugar and I were greeted so warmly at these
  2508. various military installations. Our presence not only promised money for security
  2509. systems and fencing and monitors and the like; it also indicated to the men and women
  2510. who worked in these facilities that they still in fact mattered. They had made careers,
  2511. had been honored, for perfecting the tools of war. Now they found themselves presiding
  2512. over remnants of the past, their institutions barely relevant to nations whose people had
  2513. shifted their main attention to turning a quick buck.
  2515. Certainly that’s how it felt in Donetsk, an industrial town in the southeastern portion of
  2516. Ukraine where we stopped to visit an installation for the destruction of conventional
  2517. weapons. The facility was nestled in the country, accessed by a series of narrow roads
  2518. occasionally crowded with goats. The director of the facility, a rotund, cheerful man
  2519. who reminded me of a Chicago ward superintendent, led us through a series of dark
  2520. warehouse-like structures in various states of disrepair, where rows of workers nimbly
  2521. dismantled an assortment of land mines and tank ordnance, and empty shell casings
  2522. were piled loosely into mounds that rose to my shoulders. They needed U.S. help, the
  2523. director explained, because Ukraine lacked the money to deal with all the weapons left
  2524. over from the Cold War and Afghanistan—at the pace they were going, securing and
  2525. disabling these weapons might take sixty years. In the meantime weapons would remain
  2526. scattered across the country, often in shacks without padlocks, exposed to the elements,
  2527. not just ammunition but high-grade explosives and shoulder-to-air missiles—tools of
  2528. destruction that might find their way into the hands of warlords in Somalia, Tamil
  2529. fighters in Sri Lanka, insurgents in Iraq.
  2531. As he spoke, our group entered another building, where women wearing surgical masks
  2532. stood at a table removing hexogen—a military-grade explosive—from various
  2533. munitions and placing it into bags. In another room, I happened upon a pair of men in
  2534. their undershirts, smoking next to a wheezing old boiler, flicking their ashes into an
  2535. open gutter filled with orange-tinted water. One of our team called me over and showed
  2536. me a yellowing poster taped to the wall. It was a relic of the Afghan war, we were told:
  2537. instructions on how to hide explosives in toys, to be left in villages and carried home by
  2538. unsuspecting children.
  2540. A testament, I thought, to the madness of men.
  2542. A record of how empires destroy themselves.
  2546. THERE’S A FINAL dimension to U.S. foreign policy that must be discussed—the
  2547. portion that has less to do with avoiding war than promoting peace. The year I was
  2548. born, President Kennedy stated in his inaugural address: “To those peoples in the huts
  2549. and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge
  2550. our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required—not
  2551. because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because
  2552. it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few
  2554. who are rich.” Forty-five years later, that mass misery still exists. If we are to fulfill
  2555. Kennedy’s promise—and serve our long-term security interests—then we will have to
  2556. go beyond a more prudent use of military force. We will have to align our policies to
  2557. help reduce the spheres of insecurity, poverty, and violence around the world, and give
  2558. more people a stake in the global order that has served us so well.
  2560. Of course, there are those who would argue with my starting premise—that any global
  2561. system built in America’s image can alleviate misery in poorer countries. For these
  2562. critics, America’s notion of what the international system should be—free trade, open
  2563. markets, the unfettered flow of information, the rule of law, democratic elections, and
  2564. the like—is simply an expression of American imperialism, designed to exploit the
  2565. cheap labor and natural resources of other countries and infect non-Western cultures
  2566. with decadent beliefs. Rather than conform to America’s rules, the argument goes, other
  2567. countries should resist America’s efforts to expand its hegemony; instead, they should
  2568. follow their own path to development, taking their lead from left-leaning populists like
  2569. Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, or turning to more traditional principles of social
  2570. organization, like Islamic law.
  2572. I don’t dismiss these critics out of hand. America and its Western partners did design
  2573. the current international system, after all; it is our way of doing things—our accounting
  2574. standards, our language, our dollar, our copyright laws, our technology, and our popular
  2575. culture—to which the world has had to adapt over the past fifty years. If overall the
  2576. international system has produced great prosperity in the world’s most developed
  2577. countries, it has also left many people behind—a fact that Western policy makers have
  2578. often ignored and occasionally made worse.
  2580. Ultimately, though, I believe critics are wrong to think that the world’s poor will benefit
  2581. by rejecting the ideals of free markets and liberal democracy. When human rights
  2582. activists from various countries come to my office and talk about being jailed or
  2583. tortured for their beliefs, they are not acting as agents of American power. When my
  2584. cousin in Kenya complains that it’s impossible to find work unless he’s paid a bribe to
  2585. some official in the ruling party, he hasn’t been brainwashed by Western ideas. Who
  2586. doubts that, if given the choice, most of the people in North Korea would prefer living
  2587. in South Korea, or that many in Cuba wouldn’t mind giving Miami a try?
  2589. No person, in any culture, likes to be bullied. No person likes living in fear because his
  2590. or her ideas are different. Nobody likes being poor or hungry, and nobody likes to live
  2591. under an economic system in which the fruits of his or her labor go perpetually
  2592. unrewarded. The system of free markets and liberal democracy that now characterizes
  2593. most of the developed world may be flawed; it may all too often reflect the interests of
  2594. the powerful over the powerless. But that system is constantly subject to change and
  2595. improvement—and it is precisely in this openness to change that market-based liberal
  2596. democracies offer people around the world their best chance at a better life.
  2598. Our challenge, then, is to make sure that U.S. policies move the international system in
  2599. the direction of greater equity, justice, and prosperity—that the rules we promote serve
  2600. both our interests and the interests of a struggling world. In doing so, we might keep a
  2601. few basic principles in mind. First, we should be skeptical of those who believe we can
  2602. single-handedly liberate other people from tyranny. I agree with George W. Bush when
  2603. in his second inaugural address he proclaimed a universal desire to be free. But there are
  2605. few examples in history in which the freedom men and women crave is delivered
  2606. through outside intervention. In almost every successful social movement of the last
  2607. century, from Gandhi’s campaign against British rule to the Solidarity movement in
  2608. Poland to the antiapartheid movement in South Africa, democracy was the result of a
  2609. local awakening.
  2611. We can inspire and invite other people to assert their freedoms; we can use international
  2612. forums and agreements to set standards for others to follow; we can provide funding to
  2613. fledgling democracies to help institutionalize fair election systems, train independent
  2614. journalists, and seed the habits of civic participation; we can speak out on behalf of
  2615. local leaders whose rights are violated; and we can apply economic and diplomatic
  2616. pressure to those who repeatedly violate the rights of their own people.
  2618. But when we seek to impose democracy with the barrel of a gun, funnel money to
  2619. parties whose economic policies are deemed friendlier to Washington, or fall under the
  2620. sway of exiles like Chalabi whose ambitions aren’t matched by any discernible local
  2621. support, we aren’t just setting ourselves up for failure. We are helping oppressive
  2622. regimes paint democratic activists as tools of foreign powers and retarding the
  2623. possibility that genuine, homegrown democracy will ever emerge.
  2625. A corollary to this is that freedom means more than elections. In 1941, FDR said he
  2626. looked forward to a world founded upon four essential freedoms: freedom of speech,
  2627. freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Our own experience
  2628. tells us that those last two freedoms—freedom from want and freedom from fear—are
  2629. prerequisites for all others. For half of the world’s population, roughly three billion
  2630. people around the world living on less than two dollars a day, an election is at best a
  2631. means, not an end; a starting point, not deliverance. These people are looking less for an
  2632. “electocracy” than for the basic elements that for most of us define a decent life—food,
  2633. shelter, electricity, basic health care, education for their children, and the ability to make
  2634. their way through life without having to endure corruption, violence, or arbitrary power.
  2635. If we want to win the hearts and minds of people in Caracas, Jakarta, Nairobi, or
  2636. Tehran, dispersing ballot boxes will not be enough. We’ll have to make sure that the
  2637. international rules we’re promoting enhance, rather than impede, people’s sense of
  2638. material and personal security.
  2640. That may require that we look in the mirror. For example, the United States and other
  2641. developed countries constantly demand that developing countries eliminate trade
  2642. barriers that protect them from competition, even as we steadfastly protect our own
  2643. constituencies from exports that could help lift poor countries out of poverty. In our zeal
  2644. to protect the patents of American drug companies, we’ve discouraged the ability of
  2645. countries like Brazil to produce generic AIDS drugs that could save millions of lives.
  2646. Under the leadership of Washington, the International Monetary Fund, designed after
  2647. World War II to serve as a lender of last resort, has repeatedly forced countries in the
  2648. midst of financial crisis like Indonesia to go through painful readjustments (sharply
  2649. raising interest rates, cutting government social spending, eliminating subsidies to key
  2650. industries) that cause enormous hardship to their people—harsh medicine that we
  2651. Americans would have difficulty administering to ourselves.
  2653. Another branch of the international financial system, the World Bank, has a reputation
  2654. for funding large, expensive projects that benefit high-priced consultants and well-
  2656. connected local elites but do little for ordinary citizens—although it’s these ordinary
  2657. citizens who are left holding the bag when the loans come due. Indeed, countries that
  2658. have successfully developed under the current international system have at times
  2659. ignored Washington’s rigid economic prescriptions by protecting nascent industries and
  2660. engaging in aggressive industrial policies. The IMF and World Bank need to recognize
  2661. that there is no single, cookie-cutter formula for each and every country’s development.
  2663. There is nothing wrong, of course, with a policy of “tough love” when it comes to
  2664. providing development assistance to poor countries. Too many poor countries are
  2665. hampered by archaic, even feudal, property and banking laws; in the past, too many
  2666. foreign aid programs simply engorged local elites, the money siphoned off into Swiss
  2667. bank accounts. Indeed, for far too long international aid policies have ignored the
  2668. critical role that the rule of law and principles of transparency play in any nation’s
  2669. development. In an era in which international financial transactions hinge on reliable,
  2670. enforceable contracts, one might expect that the boom in global business would have
  2671. given rise to vast legal reforms. But in fact countries like India, Nigeria, and China have
  2672. developed two legal systems—one for foreigners and elites, and one for ordinary people
  2673. trying to get ahead.
  2675. As for countries like Somalia, Sierra Leone, or the Congo, well, they have barely any
  2676. law whatsoever. There are times when considering the plight of Africa—the millions
  2677. racked by AIDS, the constant droughts and famines, the dictatorships, the pervasive
  2678. corruption, the brutality of twelve-year-old guerrillas who know nothing but war
  2679. wielding machetes or AK-47s—I find myself plunged into cynicism and despair. Until
  2680. I’m reminded that a mosquito net that prevents malaria cost three dollars; that a
  2681. voluntary HIV testing program in Uganda has made substantial inroads in the rate of
  2682. new infections at a cost of three or four dollars per test; that only modest attention—an
  2683. international show of force or the creation of civilian protection zones—might have
  2684. stopped the slaughter in Rwanda; and that onetime hard cases like Mozambique have
  2685. made significant steps toward reform.
  2687. FDR was certainly right when he said, “As a nation we may take pride in the fact that
  2688. we are softhearted; but we cannot afford to be soft-headed.” We should not expect to
  2689. help Africa if Africa ultimately proves unwilling to help itself. But there are positive
  2690. trends in Africa often hidden in the news of despair. Democracy is spreading. In many
  2691. places economies are growing. We need to build on these glimmers of hope and help
  2692. those committed leaders and citizens throughout Africa build the better future they, like
  2693. we, so desperately desire.
  2695. Moreover, we fool ourselves in thinking that, in the words of one commentator, “we
  2696. must learn to watch others die with equanimity,” and not expect consequences. Disorder
  2697. breeds disorder; callousness toward others tends to spread among ourselves. And if
  2698. moral claims are insufficient for us to act as a continent implodes, there are certainly
  2699. instrumental reasons why the United States and its allies should care about failed states
  2700. that don’t control their territories, can’t combat epidemics, and are numbed by civil war
  2701. and atrocity. It was in such a state of lawlessness that the Taliban took hold of
  2702. Afghanistan. It was in Sudan, site of today’s slow-rolling genocide, that bin Laden set
  2703. up camp for several years. It’s in the misery of some unnamed slum that the next killer
  2704. virus will emerge.
  2706. Of course, whether in Africa or elsewhere, we can’t expect to tackle such dire problems
  2707. alone. For that reason, we should be spending more time and money trying to strengthen
  2708. the capacity of international institutions so that they can do some of this work for us.
  2709. Instead, we’ve been doing the opposite. For years, conservatives in the United States
  2710. have been making political hay over problems at the UN: the hypocrisy of resolutions
  2711. singling out Israel for condemnation, the Kafkaesque election of nations like Zimbabwe
  2712. and Libya to the UN Commission on Human Rights, and most recently the kickbacks
  2713. that plagued the oil-for-food program.
  2715. These critics are right. For every UN agency like UNICEF that functions well, there are
  2716. other agencies that seem to do nothing more than hold conferences, produce reports, and
  2717. provide sinecures for third-rate international civil servants. But these failures aren’t an
  2718. argument for reducing our involvement in international organizations, nor are they an
  2719. excuse for U.S. unilateralism. The more effective UN peacekeeping forces are in
  2720. handling civil wars and sectarian conflicts, the less global policing we have to do in
  2721. areas that we’d like to see stabilized. The more credible the information that the
  2722. International Atomic Energy Agency provides, the more likely we are to mobilize allies
  2723. against the efforts of rogue states to obtain nuclear weapons. The greater the capacity of
  2724. the World Health Organization, the less likely we are to have to deal with a flu
  2725. pandemic in our own country. No country has a bigger stake than we do in
  2726. strengthening international institutions—which is why we pushed for their creation in
  2727. the first place, and why we need to take the lead in improving them.
  2729. Finally, for those who chafe at the prospect of working with our allies to solve the
  2730. pressing global challenges we face, let me suggest at least one area where we can act
  2731. unilaterally and improve our standing in the world—by perfecting our own democracy
  2732. and leading by example. When we continue to spend tens of billions of dollars on
  2733. weapons systems of dubious value but are unwilling to spend the money to protect
  2734. highly vulnerable chemical plants in major urban centers, it becomes more difficult to
  2735. get other countries to safeguard their nuclear power plants. When we detain suspects
  2736. indefinitely without trial or ship them off in the dead of night to countries where we
  2737. know they’ll be tortured, we weaken our ability to press for human rights and the rule of
  2738. law in despotic regimes. When we, the richest country on earth and the consumer of 25
  2739. percent of the world’s fossil fuels, can’t bring ourselves to raise fuel-efficiency
  2740. standards by even a small fraction so as to weaken our dependence on Saudi oil fields
  2741. and slow global warming, we should expect to have a hard time convincing China not to
  2742. deal with oil suppliers like Iran or Sudan—and shouldn’t count on much cooperation in
  2743. getting them to address environmental problems that visit our shores.
  2745. This unwillingness to make hard choices and live up to our own ideals doesn’t just
  2746. undermine U.S. credibility in the eyes of the world. It undermines the U.S.
  2747. government’s credibility with the American people. Ultimately, it is how we manage
  2748. that most precious resource—the American people, and the system of self-government
  2749. we inherited from our Founders—that will determine the success of any foreign policy.
  2750. The world out there is dangerous and complex; the work of remaking it will be long and
  2751. hard, and will require some sacrifice. Such sacrifice comes about because the American
  2752. people understand fully the choices before them; it is born of the confidence we have in
  2753. our democracy. FDR understood this when he said, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, that
  2754. “[t]his Government will put its trust in the stamina of the American people.” Truman
  2755. understood this, which is why he worked with Dean Acheson to establish the
  2757. Committee for the Marshall Plan, made up of CEOs, academics, labor leaders,
  2758. clergymen, and others who could stump for the plan across the country. It seems as if
  2759. this is a lesson that America’s leadership needs to relearn.
  2761. I wonder, sometimes, whether men and women in fact are capable of learning from
  2762. history—whether we progress from one stage to the next in an upward course or
  2763. whether we just ride the cycles of boom and bust, war and peace, ascent and decline. On
  2764. the same trip that took me to Baghdad, I spent a week traveling through Israel and the
  2765. West Bank, meeting with officials from both sides, mapping in my own mind the site of
  2766. so much strife. I talked to Jews who’d lost parents in the Holocaust and brothers in
  2767. suicide bombings; I heard Palestinians talk of the indignities of checkpoints and
  2768. reminisce about the land they had lost. I flew by helicopter across the line separating the
  2769. two peoples and found myself unable to distinguish Jewish towns from Arab towns, all
  2770. of them like fragile outposts against the green and stony hills. From the promenade
  2771. above Jerusalem, I looked down at the Old City, the Dome of the Rock, the Western
  2772. Wall, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, considered the two thousand years of war
  2773. and rumors of war that this small plot of land had come to represent, and pondered the
  2774. possible futility of believing that this conflict might somehow end in our time, or that
  2775. America, for all its power, might have any lasting say over the course of the world.
  2777. I don’t linger on such thoughts, though—they are the thoughts of an old man. As
  2778. difficult as the work may seem, I believe we have an obligation to engage in efforts to
  2779. bring about peace in the Middle East, not only for the benefit of the people of the
  2780. region, but for the safety and security of our own children as well.
  2782. And perhaps the world’s fate depends not just on the events of its battlefields; perhaps it
  2783. depends just as much on the work we do in those quiet places that require a helping
  2784. hand. I remember seeing the news reports of the tsunami that hit East Asia in 2004—the
  2785. towns of Indonesia’s western coast flattened, the thousands of people washed out to sea.
  2786. And then, in the weeks that followed, I watched with pride as Americans sent more than
  2787. a billion dollars in private relief aid and as U.S. warships delivered thousands of troops
  2788. to assist in relief and reconstruction. According to newspaper reports, 65 percent of
  2789. Indonesians surveyed said that this assistance had given them a more favorable view of
  2790. the United States. I am not naive enough to believe that one episode in the wake of
  2791. catastrophe can erase decades of mistrust.
  2793. But it’s a start.
  2795. Chapter Nine
  2797. Family
  2799. BY THE START of my second year in the Senate, my life had settled into a
  2800. manageable rhythm. I would leave Chicago Monday night or early Tuesday morning,
  2801. depending on the Senate’s voting schedule. Other than daily trips to the Senate gym and
  2802. the rare lunch or dinner with a friend, the next three days would be consumed by a
  2803. predictable series of tasks—committee markups, votes, caucus lunches, floor
  2804. statements, speeches, photos with interns, evening fund-raisers, returning phone calls,
  2805. writing correspondence, reviewing legislation, drafting op-eds, recording podcasts,
  2806. receiving policy briefings, hosting constituent coffees, and attending an endless series of
  2807. meetings. On Thursday afternoon, we would get word from the cloakroom as to when
  2808. the last vote would be, and at the appointed hour I’d line up in the well of the Senate
  2809. alongside my colleagues to cast my vote, before trotting down the Capitol steps in hopes
  2810. of catching a flight that would get me home before the girls went to bed.
  2812. Despite the hectic schedule, I found the work fascinating, if occasionally frustrating.
  2813. Contrary to popular perceptions, only about two dozen significant bills come up for a
  2814. roll-call vote on the Senate floor every year, and almost none of those are sponsored by
  2815. a member of the minority party. As a result, most of my major initiatives—the
  2816. formation of public school innovation districts, a plan to help U.S. automakers pay for
  2817. their retiree health-care costs in exchange for increased fuel economy standards, an
  2818. expansion of the Pell Grant program to help low-income students meet rising college
  2819. tuition costs—languished in committee.
  2821. On the other hand, thanks to great work by my staff, I managed to get a respectable
  2822. number of amendments passed. We helped provide funds for homeless veterans. We
  2823. provided tax credits to gas stations for installing E85 fuel pumps. We obtained funding
  2824. to help the World Health Organization monitor and respond to a potential avian flu
  2825. pandemic. We got an amendment out of the Senate eliminating no-bid contracts in the
  2826. post-Katrina reconstruction, so more money would actually end up in the hands of the
  2827. tragedy’s victims. None of these amendments would transform the country, but I took
  2828. satisfaction in knowing that each of them helped some people in a modest way or
  2829. nudged the law in a direction that might prove to be more economical, more
  2830. responsible, or more just.
  2832. One day in February I found myself in particularly good spirits, having just completed a
  2833. hearing on legislation that Dick Lugar and I were sponsoring aimed at restricting
  2834. weapons proliferation and the black-market arms trade. Because Dick was not only the
  2835. Senate’s leading expert on proliferation issues but also the chairman of the Senate
  2836. Foreign Relations Committee, prospects for the bill seemed promising. Wanting to
  2837. share the good news, I called Michelle from my D.C. office and started explaining the
  2838. significance of the bill—how shoulder-to-air missiles could threaten commercial air
  2839. travel if they fell into the wrong hands, how small-arms stockpiles left over from the
  2840. Cold War continued to feed conflict across the globe. Michelle cut me off.
  2842. “We have ants.”
  2844. “Huh?”
  2846. “I found ants in the kitchen. And in the bathroom upstairs.”
  2848. “Okay…”
  2850. “I need you to buy some ant traps on your way home tomorrow. I’d get them myself,
  2851. but I’ve got to take the girls to their doctor’s appointment after school. Can you do that
  2852. for me?”
  2854. “Right. Ant traps.”
  2856. “Ant traps. Don’t forget, okay, honey? And buy more than one. Listen, I need to go into
  2857. a meeting. Love you.”
  2859. I hung up the receiver, wondering if Ted Kennedy or John McCain bought ant traps on
  2860. the way home from work.
  2864. MOST PEOPLE WHO meet my wife quickly conclude that she is remarkable. They are
  2865. right about this—she is smart, funny, and thoroughly charming. She is also very
  2866. beautiful, although not in a way that men find intimidating or women find off-putting; it
  2867. is the lived-in beauty of the mother and busy professional rather than the touched-up
  2868. image we see on the cover of glossy magazines. Often, after hearing her speak at some
  2869. function or working with her on a project, people will approach me and say something
  2870. to the effect of “You know I think the world of you, Barack, but your wife…wow!” I
  2871. nod, knowing that if I ever had to run against her for public office, she would beat me
  2872. without much difficulty.
  2874. Fortunately for me, Michelle would never go into politics. “I don’t have the patience,”
  2875. she says to people who ask. As is always the case, she is telling the truth.
  2877. I met Michelle in the summer of 1988, while we were both working at Sidley & Austin,
  2878. a large corporate law firm based in Chicago. Although she is three years younger than
  2879. me, Michelle was already a practicing lawyer, having attended Harvard Law straight out
  2880. of college. I had just finished my first year at law school and had been hired as a
  2881. summer associate.
  2883. It was a difficult, transitional period in my life. I had enrolled in law school after three
  2884. years of work as a community organizer, and although I enjoyed my studies, I still
  2885. harbored doubts about my decision. Privately, I worried that it represented the
  2886. abandonment of my youthful ideals, a concession to the hard realities of money and
  2887. power—the world as it is rather than the world as it should be.
  2889. The idea of working at a corporate law firm, so near and yet so far removed from the
  2890. poor neighborhoods where my friends were still laboring, only worsened these fears.
  2891. But with student loans rapidly mounting, I was in no position to turn down the three
  2892. months of salary Sidley was offering. And so, having sublet the cheapest apartment I
  2893. could find, having purchased the first three suits ever to appear in my closet and a new
  2895. pair of shoes that turned out to be a half size too small and would absolutely cripple me
  2896. for the next nine weeks, I arrived at the firm one drizzly morning in early June and was
  2897. directed to the office of the young attorney who’d been assigned to serve as my summer
  2898. advisor.
  2900. I don’t remember the details of that first conversation with Michelle. I remember that
  2901. she was tall—almost my height in heels—and lovely, with a friendly, professional
  2902. manner that matched her tailored suit and blouse. She explained how work was assigned
  2903. at the firm, the nature of the various practice groups, and how to log our billable hours.
  2904. After showing me my office and giving me a tour of the library, she handed me off to
  2905. one of the partners and told me that she would meet me for lunch.
  2907. Later Michelle would tell me that she had been pleasantly surprised when I walked into
  2908. her office; the drugstore snapshot that I’d sent in for the firm directory made my nose
  2909. look a little big (even more enormous than usual, she might say), and she had been
  2910. skeptical when the secretaries who’d seen me during my interview told her I was cute:
  2911. “I figured that they were just impressed with any black man with a suit and a job.” But
  2912. if Michelle was impressed, she certainly didn’t tip her hand when we went to lunch. I
  2913. did learn that she had grown up on the South Side, in a small bungalow just north of the
  2914. neighborhoods where I had organized. Her father was a pump operator for the city; her
  2915. mother had been a housewife until the kids were grown, and now worked as a secretary
  2916. at a bank. She had attended Bryn Mawr Public Elementary School, gotten into Whitney
  2917. Young Magnet School, and followed her brother to Princeton, where he had been a star
  2918. on the basketball team. At Sidley she was part of the intellectual property group and
  2919. specialized in entertainment law; at some point, she said, she might have to consider
  2920. moving to Los Angeles or New York to pursue her career.
  2922. Oh, Michelle was full of plans that day, on the fast track, with no time, she told me, for
  2923. distractions—especially men. But she knew how to laugh, brightly and easily, and I
  2924. noticed she didn’t seem in too much of a hurry to get back to the office. And there was
  2925. something else, a glimmer that danced across her round, dark eyes whenever I looked at
  2926. her, the slightest hint of uncertainty, as if, deep inside, she knew how fragile things
  2927. really were, and that if she ever let go, even for a moment, all her plans might quickly
  2928. unravel. That touched me somehow, that trace of vulnerability. I wanted to know that
  2929. part of her.
  2931. For the next several weeks, we saw each other every day, in the law library or the
  2932. cafeteria or at one of the many outings that law firms organize for their summer
  2933. associates to convince them that their life in the law will not be endless hours of poring
  2934. through documents. She took me to one or two parties, tactfully overlooking my limited
  2935. wardrobe, and even tried to set me up with a couple of her friends. Still, she refused to
  2936. go out on a proper date. It wasn’t appropriate, she said, since she was my advisor.
  2938. “That’s a poor excuse,” I told her. “Come on, what advice are you giving me? You’re
  2939. showing me how the copy machine works. You’re telling me what restaurants to try. I
  2940. don’t think the partners will consider one date a serious breach of firm policy.”
  2942. She shook her head. “Sorry.”
  2944. “Okay, I’ll quit. How’s that? You’re my advisor. Tell me who I have to talk to.”
  2946. Eventually I wore her down. After a firm picnic, she drove me back to my apartment,
  2947. and I offered to buy her an ice cream cone at the Baskin-Robbins across the street. We
  2948. sat on the curb and ate our cones in the sticky afternoon heat, and I told her about
  2949. working at Baskin-Robbins when I was a teenager and how it was hard to look cool in a
  2950. brown apron and cap. She told me that for a span of two or three years as a child, she
  2951. had refused to eat anything except peanut butter and jelly. I said that I’d like to meet her
  2952. family. She said that she would like that.
  2954. I asked if I could kiss her. It tasted of chocolate.
  2956. We spent the rest of the summer together. I told her about organizing, and living in
  2957. Indonesia, and what it was like to bodysurf. She told me about her childhood friends,
  2958. and a trip to Paris she’d taken in high school, and her favorite Stevie Wonder songs.
  2960. But it wasn’t until I met Michelle’s family that I began to understand her. It turned out
  2961. that visiting the Robinson household was like dropping in on the set of Leave It to
  2962. Beaver. There was Frasier, the kindly, good-humored father, who never missed a day of
  2963. work or any of his son’s ball games. There was Marian, the pretty, sensible mother who
  2964. baked birthday cakes, kept order in the house, and had volunteered at school to make
  2965. sure her children were behaving and that the teachers were doing what they were
  2966. supposed to be doing. There was Craig, the basketball-star brother, tall and friendly and
  2967. courteous and funny, working as an investment banker but dreaming of going into
  2968. coaching someday. And there were uncles and aunts and cousins everywhere, stopping
  2969. by to sit around the kitchen table and eat until they burst and tell wild stories and listen
  2970. to Grandpa’s old jazz collection and laugh deep into the night.
  2972. All that was missing was the dog. Marian didn’t want a dog tearing up the house.
  2974. What made this vision of domestic bliss all the more impressive was the fact that the
  2975. Robinsons had had to overcome hardships that one rarely saw on prime-time TV. There
  2976. were the usual issues of race, of course: the limited opportunities available to Michelle’s
  2977. parents growing up in Chicago during the fifties and sixties; the racial steering and
  2978. panic peddling that had driven white families away from their neighborhood; the extra
  2979. energy required from black parents to compensate for smaller incomes and more violent
  2980. streets and underfunded playgrounds and indifferent schools.
  2982. But there was a more specific tragedy at the center of the Robinson household. At the
  2983. age of thirty, in the prime of his life, Michelle’s father had been diagnosed with multiple
  2984. sclerosis. For the next twenty-five years, as his condition steadily deteriorated, he had
  2985. carried out his responsibilities to his family without a trace of self-pity, giving himself
  2986. an extra hour every morning to get to work, struggling with every physical act from
  2987. driving a car to buttoning his shirt, smiling and joking as he labored—at first with a
  2988. limp and eventually with the aid of two canes, his balding head beading with sweat—
  2989. across a field to watch his son play, or across the living room to give his daughter a kiss.
  2991. After we were married, Michelle would help me understand the hidden toll that her
  2992. father’s illness had taken on her family; how heavy a burden Michelle’s mother had
  2993. been forced to carry; how carefully circumscribed their lives together had been, with
  2994. even the smallest outing carefully planned to avoid problems or awkwardness; how
  2995. terrifyingly random life seemed beneath the smiles and laughter.
  2997. But back then I saw only the joy of the Robinson house. For someone like me, who had
  2998. barely known his father, who had spent much of his life traveling from place to place,
  2999. his bloodlines scattered to the four winds, the home that Frasier and Marian Robinson
  3000. had built for themselves and their children stirred a longing for stability and a sense of
  3001. place that I had not realized was there. Just as Michelle perhaps saw in me a life of
  3002. adventure, risk, travel to exotic lands—a wider horizon than she had previously allowed
  3003. herself.
  3005. Six months after Michelle and I met, her father died suddenly of complications after a
  3006. kidney operation. I flew back to Chicago and stood at his gravesite, Michelle’s head on
  3007. my shoulder. As the casket was lowered, I promised Frasier Robinson that I would take
  3008. care of his girl. I realized that in some unspoken, still tentative way, she and I were
  3009. already becoming a family.
  3013. THERE’S A LOT of talk these days about the decline of the American family. Social
  3014. conservatives claim that the traditional family is under assault from Hollywood movies
  3015. and gay pride parades. Liberals point to the economic factors—from stagnating wages
  3016. to inadequate day care—that have put families under increasing duress. Our popular
  3017. culture feeds the alarm, with tales of women consigned to permanent singlehood, men
  3018. unwilling to make lasting commitments, and teens engaged in endless sexual escapades.
  3019. Nothing seems settled, as it was in the past; our roles and relationships all feel up for
  3020. grabs.
  3022. Given this hand-wringing, it may be helpful to step back and remind ourselves that the
  3023. institution of marriage isn’t disappearing anytime soon. While it’s true that marriage
  3024. rates have declined steadily since the 1950s, some of the decline is a result of more
  3025. Americans delaying marriage to pursue an education or establish a career; by the age of
  3026. forty-five, 89 percent of women and 83 percent of men will have tied the knot at least
  3027. once. Married couples continue to head 67 percent of American families, and the vast
  3028. majority of Americans still consider marriage to be the best foundation for personal
  3029. intimacy, economic stability, and child rearing.
  3031. Still, there’s no denying that the nature of the family has changed over the last fifty
  3032. years. Although divorce rates have declined by 21 percent since their peak in the late
  3033. seventies and early eighties, half of all first marriages still end in divorce. Compared to
  3034. our grandparents, we’re more tolerant of premarital sex, more likely to cohabit, and
  3035. more likely to live alone. We’re also far more likely to be raising children in
  3036. nontraditional households; 60 percent of all divorces involve children, 33 percent of all
  3037. children are born out of wedlock, and 34 percent of children don’t live with their
  3038. biological fathers.
  3040. These trends are particularly acute in the African American community, where it’s fair
  3041. to say that the nuclear family is on the verge of collapse. Since 1950, the marriage rate
  3042. for black women has plummeted from 62 percent to 36 percent. Between 1960 and
  3043. 1995, the number of African American children living with two married parents
  3044. dropped by more than half; today 54 percent of all African American children live in
  3045. single-parent households, compared to about 23 percent of all white children.
  3047. For adults, at least, the effect of these changes is a mixed bag. Research suggests that on
  3048. average, married couples live healthier, wealthier, and happier lives, but no one claims
  3049. that men and women benefit from being trapped in bad or abusive marriages. Certainly
  3050. the decision of increasing numbers of Americans to delay marriage makes sense; not
  3051. only does today’s information economy demand more time in school, but studies show
  3052. that couples who wait until their late twenties or thirties to get married are more likely
  3053. to stay married than those who marry young.
  3055. Whatever the effect on adults, though, these trends haven’t been so good for our
  3056. children. Many single moms—including the one who raised me—do a heroic job on
  3057. behalf of their kids. Still, children living with single mothers are five times more likely
  3058. to be poor than children in two-parent households. Children in single-parent homes are
  3059. also more likely to drop out of school and become teen parents, even when income is
  3060. factored out. And the evidence suggests that on average, children who live with both
  3061. their biological mother and father do better than those who live in stepfamilies or with
  3062. cohabiting partners.
  3064. In light of these facts, policies that strengthen marriage for those who choose it and that
  3065. discourage unintended births outside of marriage are sensible goals to pursue. For
  3066. example, most people agree that neither federal welfare programs nor the tax code
  3067. should penalize married couples; those aspects of welfare reform enacted under Clinton
  3068. and those elements of the Bush tax plan that reduced the marriage penalty enjoy strong
  3069. bipartisan support.
  3071. The same goes for teen pregnancy prevention. Everyone agrees that teen pregnancies
  3072. place both mother and child at risk for all sorts of problems. Since 1990, the teen
  3073. pregnancy rate has dropped by 28 percent, an unadulterated piece of good news. But
  3074. teens still account for almost a quarter of out-of-wedlock births, and teen mothers are
  3075. more likely to have additional out-of-wedlock births as they get older. Community-
  3076. based programs that have a proven track record in preventing unwanted pregnancies—
  3077. both by encouraging abstinence and by promoting the proper use of contraception—
  3078. deserve broad support.
  3080. Finally, preliminary research shows that marriage education workshops can make a real
  3081. difference in helping married couples stay together and in encouraging unmarried
  3082. couples who are living together to form a more lasting bond. Expanding access to such
  3083. services to low-income couples, perhaps in concert with job training and placement,
  3084. medical coverage, and other services already available, should be something everybody
  3085. can agree on.
  3087. But for many social conservatives, these commonsense approaches don’t go far enough.
  3088. They want a return to a bygone era, in which sexuality outside of marriage was subject
  3089. to both punishment and shame, obtaining a divorce was far more difficult, and marriage
  3090. offered not merely personal fulfillment but also well-defined social roles for men and
  3091. for women. In their view, any government policy that appears to reward or even express
  3092. neutrality toward what they consider to be immoral behavior—whether providing birth
  3093. control to young people, abortion services to women, welfare support for unwed
  3094. mothers, or legal recognition of same-sex unions—inherently devalues the marital bond.
  3095. Such policies take us one step closer, the argument goes, to a brave new world in which
  3097. gender differences have been erased, sex is purely recreational, marriage is disposable,
  3098. motherhood is an inconvenience, and civilization itself rests on shifting sands.
  3100. I understand the impulse to restore a sense of order to a culture that’s constantly in flux.
  3101. And I certainly appreciate the desire of parents to shield their children from values they
  3102. consider unwholesome; it’s a feeling I often share when I listen to the lyrics of songs on
  3103. the radio.
  3105. But all in all, I have little sympathy for those who would enlist the government in the
  3106. task of enforcing sexual morality. Like most Americans, I consider decisions about sex,
  3107. marriage, divorce, and childbearing to be highly personal—at the very core of our
  3108. system of individual liberty. Where such personal decisions raise the prospect of
  3109. significant harm to others—as is true with child abuse, incest, bigamy, domestic
  3110. violence, or failure to pay child support—society has a right and duty to step in. (Those
  3111. who believe in the personhood of the fetus would put abortion in this category.) Beyond
  3112. that, I have no interest in seeing the president, Congress, or a government bureaucracy
  3113. regulating what goes on in America’s bedrooms.
  3115. Moreover, I don’t believe we strengthen the family by bullying or coercing people into
  3116. the relationships we think are best for them—or by punishing those who fail to meet our
  3117. standards of sexual propriety. I want to encourage young people to show more
  3118. reverence toward sex and intimacy, and I applaud parents, congregations, and
  3119. community programs that transmit that message. But I’m not willing to consign a
  3120. teenage girl to a lifetime of struggle because of lack of access to birth control. I want
  3121. couples to understand the value of commitment and the sacrifices marriage entails. But
  3122. I’m not willing to use the force of law to keep couples together regardless of their
  3123. personal circumstances.
  3125. Perhaps I just find the ways of the human heart too various, and my own life too
  3126. imperfect, to believe myself qualified to serve as anyone’s moral arbiter. I do know that
  3127. in our fourteen years of marriage, Michelle and I have never had an argument as a result
  3128. of what other people are doing in their personal lives.
  3130. What we have argued about—repeatedly—is how to balance work and family in a way
  3131. that’s equitable to Michelle and good for our children. We’re not alone in this. In the
  3132. sixties and early seventies, the household Michelle grew up in was the norm—more
  3133. than 70 percent of families had Mom at home and relied on Dad as the sole
  3134. breadwinner.
  3136. Today those numbers are reversed. Seventy percent of families with children are headed
  3137. by two working parents or a single working parent. The result has been what my policy
  3138. director and work-family expert Karen Kornbluh calls “the juggler family,” in which
  3139. parents struggle to pay the bills, look after their children, maintain a household, and
  3140. maintain their relationship. Keeping all these balls in the air takes its toll on family life.
  3141. As Karen explained when she was director of the Work and Family Program at the New
  3142. America Foundation and testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Children and
  3143. Families:
  3147. Americans today have 22 fewer hours a week to spend with their kids than they did in
  3148. 1969. Millions of children are left in unlicensed day care every day—or at home alone
  3149. with the TV as a babysitter. Employed mothers lose almost an hour of sleep a day in
  3150. their attempt to make it all add up. Recent data show that parents with school age
  3151. children show high signs of stress—stress that has an impact on their productivity and
  3152. work—when they have inflexible jobs and unstable after-school care.
  3156. Sound familiar?
  3158. Many social conservatives suggest that this flood of women out of the home and into
  3159. the workplace is a direct consequence of feminist ideology, and hence can be reversed if
  3160. women will just come to their senses and return to their traditional homemaking roles.
  3161. It’s true that ideas about equality for women have played a critical role in the
  3162. transformation of the workplace; in the minds of most Americans, the opportunity for
  3163. women to pursue careers, achieve economic independence, and realize their talents on
  3164. an equal footing with men has been one of the great achievements of modern life.
  3166. But for the average American woman, the decision to work isn’t simply a matter of
  3167. changing attitudes. It’s a matter of making ends meet.
  3169. Consider the facts. Over the last thirty years, the average earnings of American men
  3170. have grown less than 1 percent after being adjusted for inflation. Meanwhile, the cost of
  3171. everything, from housing to health care to education, has steadily risen. What has kept a
  3172. large swath of American families from falling out of the middle class has been Mom’s
  3173. paycheck. In their book The Two-Income Trap, Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Tyagi
  3174. point out that the additional income mothers bring home isn’t going to luxury items.
  3175. Instead, almost all of it goes to purchase what families believe to be investments in their
  3176. children’s future—preschool education, college tuition, and most of all, homes in safe
  3177. neighborhoods with good public schools. In fact, between these fixed costs and the
  3178. added expenses of a working mother (particularly day care and a second car), the
  3179. average two-income family has less discretionary income—and is less financially
  3180. secure—than its single-earner counterpart thirty years ago.
  3182. So is it possible for the average family to return to life on a single income? Not when
  3183. every other family on the block is earning two incomes and bidding up the prices of
  3184. homes, schools, and college tuition. Warren and Tyagi show that an average single-
  3185. earner family today that tried to maintain a middle-class lifestyle would have 60 percent
  3186. less discretionary income than its 1970s counterpart. In other words, for most families,
  3187. having Mom stay at home means living in a less-safe neighborhood and enrolling their
  3188. children in a less-competitive school.
  3190. That’s not a choice most Americans are willing to make. Instead they do the best they
  3191. can under the circumstances, knowing that the type of household they grew up in—the
  3192. type of household in which Frasier and Marian Robinson raised their kids—has become
  3193. much, much harder to sustain.
  3197. BOTH MEN AND women have had to adjust to these new realities. But it’s hard to
  3198. argue with Michelle when she insists that the burdens of the modern family fall more
  3199. heavily on the woman.
  3201. For the first few years of our marriage, Michelle and I went through the usual
  3202. adjustments all couples go through: learning to read each other’s moods, accepting the
  3203. quirks and habits of a stranger underfoot. Michelle liked to wake up early and could
  3204. barely keep her eyes open after ten o’clock. I was a night owl and could be a bit grumpy
  3205. (mean, Michelle would say) within the first half hour or so of getting out of bed. Partly
  3206. because I was still working on my first book, and perhaps because I had lived much of
  3207. my life as an only child, I would often spend the evening holed up in my office in the
  3208. back of our railroad apartment; what I considered normal often left Michelle feeling
  3209. lonely. I invariably left the butter out after breakfast and forgot to twist the little tie
  3210. around the bread bag; Michelle could rack up parking tickets like nobody’s business.
  3212. Mostly, though, those early years were full of ordinary pleasures—going to movies,
  3213. having dinner with friends, catching the occasional concert. We were both working
  3214. hard: I was practicing law at a small civil rights firm and had started teaching at the
  3215. University of Chicago Law School, while Michelle had decided to leave her law
  3216. practice, first to work in Chicago’s Department of Planning and then to run the Chicago
  3217. arm of a national service program called Public Allies. Our time together got squeezed
  3218. even more when I ran for the state legislature, but despite my lengthy absences and her
  3219. general dislike of politics, Michelle supported the decision; “I know it’s something that
  3220. you want to do,” she would tell me. On the nights that I was in Springfield, we’d talk
  3221. and laugh over the phone, sharing the humor and frustrations of our days apart, and I
  3222. would fall asleep content in the knowledge of our love.
  3224. Then Malia was born, a Fourth of July baby, so calm and so beautiful, with big,
  3225. hypnotic eyes that seemed to read the world the moment they opened. Malia’s arrival
  3226. came at an ideal time for both of us: Because I was out of session and didn’t have to
  3227. teach during the summer, I was able to spend every evening at home; meanwhile,
  3228. Michelle had decided to accept a part-time job at the University of Chicago so she could
  3229. spend more time with the baby, and the new job didn’t start until October. For three
  3230. magical months the two of us fussed and fretted over our new baby, checking the crib to
  3231. make sure she was breathing, coaxing smiles from her, singing her songs, and taking so
  3232. many pictures that we started to wonder if we were damaging her eyes. Suddenly our
  3233. different biorhythms came in handy: While Michelle got some well-earned sleep, I
  3234. would stay up until one or two in the morning, changing diapers, heating breast milk,
  3235. feeling my daughter’s soft breath against my chest as I rocked her to sleep, guessing at
  3236. her infant dreams.
  3238. But when fall came—when my classes started back up, the legislature went back into
  3239. session, and Michelle went back to work—the strains in our relationship began to show.
  3240. I was often gone for three days at a stretch, and even when I was back in Chicago, I
  3241. might have evening meetings to attend, or papers to grade, or briefs to write. Michelle
  3242. found that a part-time job had a funny way of expanding. We found a wonderful in-
  3243. home babysitter to look after Malia while we were at work, but with a full-time
  3244. employee suddenly on our payroll, money got tight.
  3246. Tired and stressed, we had little time for conversation, much less romance. When I
  3247. launched my ill-fated congressional run, Michelle put up no pretense of being happy
  3248. with the decision. My failure to clean up the kitchen suddenly became less endearing.
  3249. Leaning down to kiss Michelle good-bye in the morning, all I would get was a peck on
  3250. the cheek. By the time Sasha was born—just as beautiful, and almost as calm as her
  3251. sister—my wife’s anger toward me seemed barely contained.
  3253. “You only think about yourself,” she would tell me. “I never thought I’d have to raise a
  3254. family alone.”
  3256. I was stung by such accusations; I thought she was being unfair. After all, it wasn’t as if
  3257. I went carousing with the boys every night. I made few demands of Michelle—I didn’t
  3258. expect her to darn my socks or have dinner waiting for me when I got home. Whenever
  3259. I could, I pitched in with the kids. All I asked for in return was a little tenderness.
  3260. Instead, I found myself subjected to endless negotiations about every detail of managing
  3261. the house, long lists of things that I needed to do or had forgotten to do, and a generally
  3262. sour attitude. I reminded Michelle that compared to most families, we were incredibly
  3263. lucky. I reminded her as well that for all my flaws, I loved her and the girls more than
  3264. anything else. My love should be enough, I thought. As far as I was concerned, she had
  3265. nothing to complain about.
  3267. It was only upon reflection, after the trials of those years had passed and the kids had
  3268. started school, that I began to appreciate what Michelle had been going through at the
  3269. time, the struggles so typical of today’s working mother. For no matter how liberated I
  3270. liked to see myself as—no matter how much I told myself that Michelle and I were
  3271. equal partners, and that her dreams and ambitions were as important as my own—the
  3272. fact was that when children showed up, it was Michelle and not I who was expected to
  3273. make the necessary adjustments. Sure, I helped, but it was always on my terms, on my
  3274. schedule. Meanwhile, she was the one who had to put her career on hold. She was the
  3275. one who had to make sure that the kids were fed and bathed every night. If Malia or
  3276. Sasha got sick or the babysitter failed to show up, it was she who, more often than not,
  3277. had to get on the phone to cancel a meeting at work.
  3279. It wasn’t just the constant scrambling between her work and the children that made
  3280. Michelle’s situation so tough. It was also the fact that from her perspective she wasn’t
  3281. doing either job well. This was not true, of course; her employers loved her, and
  3282. everyone remarked on what a good mother she was. But I came to see that in her own
  3283. mind, two visions of herself were at war with each other—the desire to be the woman
  3284. her mother had been, solid, dependable, making a home and always there for her kids;
  3285. and the desire to excel in her profession, to make her mark on the world and realize all
  3286. those plans she’d had on the very first day that we met.
  3288. In the end, I credit Michelle’s strength—her willingness to manage these tensions and
  3289. make sacrifices on behalf of myself and the girls—with carrying us through the difficult
  3290. times. But we also had resources at our disposal that many American families don’t
  3291. have. For starters, Michelle’s and my status as professionals meant that we could
  3292. rework our schedules to handle an emergency (or just take a day off) without risk of
  3293. losing our jobs. Fifty-seven percent of American workers don’t have that luxury;
  3294. indeed, most of them can’t take a day off to look after a child without losing pay or
  3295. using vacation days. For parents who do try to make their own schedules, flexibility
  3297. often means accepting part-time or temporary work with no career ladder and few or no
  3298. benefits.
  3300. Michelle and I also had enough income to cover all the services that help ease the
  3301. pressures of two-earner parenthood: reliable child care, extra babysitting whenever we
  3302. needed it, take-out dinners when we had neither the time nor the energy to cook,
  3303. someone to come in and clean the house once a week, and private preschool and
  3304. summer day camp once the kids were old enough. For most American families, such
  3305. help is financially out of reach. The cost of day care is especially prohibitive; the United
  3306. States is practically alone among Western nations in not providing government-
  3307. subsidized, high-quality day-care services to all its workers.
  3309. Finally, Michelle and I had my mother-in-law, who lives only fifteen minutes away
  3310. from us, in the same house in which Michelle was raised. Marian is in her late sixties
  3311. but looks ten years younger, and last year, when Michelle went back to full-time work,
  3312. Marian decided to cut her hours at the bank so she could pick up the girls from school
  3313. and look after them every afternoon. For many American families, such help is simply
  3314. unavailable; in fact, for many families, the situation is reversed—someone in the family
  3315. has to provide care for an aging parent on top of other family responsibilities.
  3317. Of course, it’s not possible for the federal government to guarantee each family a
  3318. wonderful, healthy, semiretired mother-in-law who happens to live close by. But if
  3319. we’re serious about family values, then we can put policies in place that make the
  3320. juggling of work and parenting a little bit easier. We could start by making high-quality
  3321. day care affordable for every family that needs it. In contrast to most European
  3322. countries, day care in the United States is a haphazard affair. Improved day-care
  3323. licensing and training, an expansion of the federal and state child tax credits, and
  3324. sliding-scale subsidies to families that need them all could provide both middle-class
  3325. and low-income parents some peace of mind during the workday—and benefit
  3326. employers through reduced absenteeism.
  3328. It’s also time to redesign our schools—not just for the sake of working parents, but also
  3329. to help prepare our children for a more competitive world. Countless studies confirm
  3330. the educational benefits of strong preschool programs, which is why even families who
  3331. have a parent at home often seek them out. The same goes for longer school days,
  3332. summer school, and after-school programs. Providing all kids access to these benefits
  3333. would cost money, but as part of broader school reform efforts, it’s a cost that we as a
  3334. society should be willing to bear.
  3336. Most of all, we need to work with employers to increase the flexibility of work
  3337. schedules. The Clinton Administration took a step in this direction with the Family and
  3338. Medical Leave Act (FMLA), but because it requires only unpaid leave and applies only
  3339. to companies with more than fifty employees, most American workers aren’t able to
  3340. take advantage of it. And although all other wealthy nations but one provide some form
  3341. of paid parental leave, the business community’s resistance to mandated paid leave has
  3342. been fierce, in part because of concerns over how it would affect small businesses.
  3344. With a little creativity, we should be able to break this impasse. California has recently
  3345. initiated paid leave through its disability insurance fund, thereby making sure that the
  3346. costs aren’t borne by employers alone.
  3348. We can also give parents flexibility to meet their day-to-day needs. Already, many
  3349. larger companies offer formal flextime programs and report higher employee morale
  3350. and less employee turnover as a result. Great Britain has come up with a novel approach
  3351. to the problem—as part of a highly popular “Work-Life Balance Campaign,” parents
  3352. with children under the age of six have the right to file a written request with employers
  3353. for a change in their schedule. Employers aren’t required to grant the request, but they
  3354. are required to meet with the employee to consider it; so far, one-quarter of all eligible
  3355. British parents have successfully negotiated more family-friendly hours without a drop
  3356. in productivity. With a combination of such innovative policy making, technical
  3357. assistance, and greater public awareness, government can help businesses to do right by
  3358. their employees at nominal expense.
  3360. Of course, none of these policies need discourage families from deciding to keep a
  3361. parent at home, regardless of the financial sacrifices. For some families, that may mean
  3362. doing without certain material comforts. For others, it may mean home schooling or a
  3363. move to a community where the cost of living is lower. For some families, it may be the
  3364. father who stays at home—although for most families it will still be the mother who
  3365. serves as the primary caregiver.
  3367. Whatever the case may be, such decisions should be honored. If there’s one thing that
  3368. social conservatives have been right about, it’s that our modern culture sometimes fails
  3369. to fully appreciate the extraordinary emotional and financial contributions—the
  3370. sacrifices and just plain hard work—of the stay-at-home mom. Where social
  3371. conservatives have been wrong is in insisting that this traditional role is innate—the best
  3372. or only model of motherhood. I want my daughters to have a choice as to what’s best
  3373. for them and their families. Whether they will have such choices will depend not just on
  3374. their own efforts and attitudes. As Michelle has taught me, it will also depend on men—
  3375. and American society—respecting and accommodating the choices they make.
  3379. “HI, DADDY.”
  3381. “Hey, sweetie-pie.”
  3383. It’s Friday afternoon and I’m home early to look after the girls while Michelle goes to
  3384. the hairdresser. I gather up Malia in a hug and notice a blond girl in our kitchen, peering
  3385. at me through a pair of oversized glasses.
  3387. “Who’s this?” I ask, setting Malia back on the floor.
  3389. “This is Sam. She’s over for a playdate.”
  3391. “Hi, Sam.” I offer Sam my hand, and she considers it for a moment before shaking it
  3392. loosely. Malia rolls her eyes.
  3394. “Listen, Daddy…you don’t shake hands with kids.”
  3396. “You don’t?”
  3398. “No,” Malia says. “Not even teenagers shake hands. You may not have noticed, but this
  3399. is the twenty-first century.” Malia looks at Sam, who represses a smirk.
  3401. “So what do you do in the twenty-first century?”
  3403. “You just say ‘hey.’ Sometimes you wave. That’s pretty much it.”
  3405. “I see. I hope I didn’t embarrass you.”
  3407. Malia smiles. “That’s okay, Daddy. You didn’t know, because you’re used to shaking
  3408. hands with grown-ups.”
  3410. “That’s true. Where’s your sister?”
  3412. “She’s upstairs.”
  3414. I walk upstairs to find Sasha standing in her underwear and a pink top. She pulls me
  3415. down for a hug and then tells me she can’t find any shorts. I check in the closet and find
  3416. a pair of blue shorts sitting right on top of her chest of drawers.
  3418. “What are these?”
  3420. Sasha frowns but reluctantly takes the shorts from me and pulls them on. After a few
  3421. minutes, she climbs into my lap.
  3423. “These shorts aren’t comfortable, Daddy.”
  3425. We go back into Sasha’s closet, open the drawer again, and find another pair of shorts,
  3426. also blue. “How about these?” I ask.
  3428. Sasha frowns again. Standing there, she looks like a three-foot version of her mother.
  3429. Malia and Sam walk in to observe the stand-off.
  3431. “Sasha doesn’t like either of those shorts,” Malia explains.
  3433. I turn to Sasha and ask her why. She looks up at me warily, taking my measure.
  3435. “Pink and blue don’t go together,” she says finally.
  3437. Malia and Sam giggle. I try to look as stern as Michelle might look in such
  3438. circumstances and tell Sasha to put on the shorts. She does what I say, but I realize she’s
  3439. just indulging me.
  3441. When it comes to my daughters, no one is buying my tough-guy routine.
  3443. Like many men today, I grew up without a father in the house. My mother and father
  3444. divorced when I was only two years old, and for most of my life I knew him only
  3445. through the letters he sent and the stories my mother and grandparents told. There were
  3446. men in my life—a stepfather with whom we lived for four years, and my grandfather,
  3447. who along with my grandmother helped raise me the rest of the time—and both were
  3449. good men who treated me with affection. But my relationships with them were
  3450. necessarily partial, incomplete. In the case of my stepfather, this was a result of limited
  3451. duration and his natural reserve. And as close as I was to my grandfather, he was both
  3452. too old and too troubled to provide me with much direction.
  3454. It was women, then, who provided the ballast in my life—my grandmother, whose
  3455. dogged practicality kept the family afloat, and my mother, whose love and clarity of
  3456. spirit kept my sister’s and my world centered. Because of them I never wanted for
  3457. anything important. From them I would absorb the values that guide me to this day.
  3459. Still, as I got older I came to recognize how hard it had been for my mother and
  3460. grandmother to raise us without a strong male presence in the house. I felt as well the
  3461. mark that a father’s absence can leave on a child. I determined that my father’s
  3462. irresponsibility toward his children, my stepfather’s remoteness, and my grandfather’s
  3463. failures would all become object lessons for me, and that my own children would have a
  3464. father they could count on.
  3466. In the most basic sense, I’ve succeeded. My marriage is intact and my family is
  3467. provided for. I attend parent-teacher conferences and dance recitals, and my daughters
  3468. bask in my adoration. And yet, of all the areas of my life, it is in my capacities as a
  3469. husband and father that I entertain the most doubt.
  3471. I realize I’m not alone in this; at some level I’m just going through the same conflicting
  3472. emotions that other fathers experience as they navigate an economy in flux and
  3473. changing social norms. Even as it becomes less and less attainable, the image of the
  3474. 1950s father—supporting his family with a nine-to-five job, sitting down for the dinner
  3475. that his wife prepares every night, coaching Little League, and handling power tools—
  3476. hovers over the culture no less powerfully than the image of the stay-at-home mom. For
  3477. many men today, the inability to be their family’s sole breadwinner is a source of
  3478. frustration and even shame; one doesn’t have to be an economic determinist to believe
  3479. that high unemployment and low wages contribute to the lack of parental involvement
  3480. and low marriage rates among African American men.
  3482. For working men, no less than for working women, the terms of employment have
  3483. changed. Whether a high-paid professional or a worker on the assembly line, fathers are
  3484. expected to put in longer hours on the job than they did in the past. And these more
  3485. demanding work schedules are occurring precisely at the time when fathers are
  3486. expected—and in many cases want—to be more actively involved in the lives of their
  3487. children than their own fathers may have been in theirs.
  3489. But if the gap between the idea of parenthood in my head and the compromised reality
  3490. that I live isn’t unique, that doesn’t relieve my sense that I’m not always giving my
  3491. family all that I could. Last Father’s Day, I was invited to speak to the members of
  3492. Salem Baptist Church on the South Side of Chicago. I didn’t have a prepared text, but I
  3493. took as my theme “what it takes to be a full-grown man.” I suggested that it was time
  3494. that men in general and black men in particular put away their excuses for not being
  3495. there for their families. I reminded the men in the audience that being a father meant
  3496. more than bearing a child; that even those of us who were physically present in the
  3497. home are often emotionally absent; that precisely because many of us didn’t have
  3498. fathers in the house we have to redouble our efforts to break the cycle; and that if we
  3500. want to pass on high expectations to our children, we have to have higher expectations
  3501. for ourselves.
  3503. Thinking back on what I said, I ask myself sometimes how well I’m living up to my
  3504. own exhortations. After all, unlike many of the men to whom I was speaking that day, I
  3505. don’t have to take on two jobs or the night shift in a valiant attempt to put food on the
  3506. table. I could find a job that allowed me to be home every night. Or I could find a job
  3507. that paid more money, a job in which long hours might at least be justified by some
  3508. measurable benefit to my family—the ability of Michelle to cut back her hours, say, or a
  3509. fat trust fund for the kids.
  3511. Instead, I have chosen a life with a ridiculous schedule, a life that requires me to be
  3512. gone from Michelle and the girls for long stretches of time and that exposes Michelle to
  3513. all sorts of stress. I may tell myself that in some larger sense I am in politics for Malia
  3514. and Sasha, that the work I do will make the world a better place for them. But such
  3515. rationalizations seem feeble and painfully abstract when I’m missing one of the girls’
  3516. school potlucks because of a vote, or calling Michelle to tell her that session’s been
  3517. extended and we need to postpone our vacation. Indeed, my recent success in politics
  3518. does little to assuage the guilt; as Michelle told me once, only half joking, seeing your
  3519. dad’s picture in the paper may be kind of neat the first time it happens, but when it
  3520. happens all the time it’s probably kind of embarrassing.
  3522. And so I do my best to answer the accusation that floats around in my mind—that I am
  3523. selfish, that I do what I do to feed my own ego or fill a void in my heart. When I’m not
  3524. out of town, I try to be home for dinner, to hear from Malia and Sasha about their day,
  3525. to read to them and tuck them into bed. I try not to schedule appearances on Sundays,
  3526. and in the summers I’ll use the day to take the girls to the zoo or the pool; in the winters
  3527. we might visit a museum or the aquarium. I scold my daughters gently when they
  3528. misbehave, and try to limit their intake of both television and junk food. In all this I am
  3529. encouraged by Michelle, although there are times when I get the sense that I’m
  3530. encroaching on her space—that by my absences I may have forfeited certain rights to
  3531. interfere in the world she has built.
  3533. As for the girls, they seem to be thriving despite my frequent disappearances. Mostly
  3534. this is a testimony to Michelle’s parenting skills; she seems to have a perfect touch
  3535. when it comes to Malia and Sasha, an ability to set firm boundaries without being
  3536. stifling. She’s also made sure that my election to the Senate hasn’t altered the girls’
  3537. routines very much, although what passes for a normal middle-class childhood in
  3538. America these days seems to have changed as much as has parenting. Gone are the days
  3539. when parents just sent their child outside or to the park and told him or her to be back
  3540. before dinner. Today, with news of abductions and an apparent suspicion of anything
  3541. spontaneous or even a tiny bit slothful, the schedules of children seem to rival those of
  3542. their parents. There are playdates, ballet classes, gymnastics classes, tennis lessons,
  3543. piano lessons, soccer leagues, and what seem like weekly birthday parties. I told Malia
  3544. once that during the entire time that I was growing up, I attended exactly two birthday
  3545. parties, both of which involved five or six kids, cone hats, and a cake. She looked at me
  3546. the way I used to look at my grandfather when he told stories of the Depression—with a
  3547. mixture of fascination and incredulity.
  3549. It is left to Michelle to coordinate all the children’s activities, which she does with a
  3550. general’s efficiency. When I can, I volunteer to help, which Michelle appreciates,
  3551. although she is careful to limit my responsibilities. The day before Sasha’s birthday
  3552. party this past June, I was told to procure twenty balloons, enough cheese pizza to feed
  3553. twenty kids, and ice. This seemed manageable, so when Michelle told me that she was
  3554. going to get goody bags to hand out at the end of the party, I suggested that I do that as
  3555. well. She laughed.
  3557. “You can’t handle goody bags,” she said. “Let me explain the goody bag thing. You
  3558. have to go into the party store and choose the bags. Then you have to choose what to
  3559. put in the bags, and what is in the boys’ bags has to be different from what is in the
  3560. girls’ bags. You’d walk in there and wander around the aisles for an hour, and then your
  3561. head would explode.”
  3563. Feeling less confident, I got on the Internet. I found a place that sold balloons near the
  3564. gymnastics studio where the party would be held, and a pizza place that promised
  3565. delivery at 3:45 p.m. By the time the guests showed up the next day, the balloons were
  3566. in place and the juice boxes were on ice. I sat with the other parents, catching up and
  3567. watching twenty or so five-year-olds run and jump and bounce on the equipment like a
  3568. band of merry elves. I had a slight scare when at 3:50 the pizzas had not yet arrived, but
  3569. the delivery person got there ten minutes before the children were scheduled to eat.
  3570. Michelle’s brother, Craig, knowing the pressure I was under, gave me a high five.
  3571. Michelle looked up from putting pizza on paper plates and smiled.
  3573. As a grand finale, after all the pizza was eaten and the juice boxes drunk, after we had
  3574. sung “Happy Birthday” and eaten some cake, the gymnastics instructor gathered all the
  3575. kids around an old, multicolored parachute and told Sasha to sit at its center. On the
  3576. count of three, Sasha was hoisted up into the air and back down again, then up for a
  3577. second time, and then for a third. And each time she rose above the billowing sail, she
  3578. laughed and laughed with a look of pure joy.
  3580. I wonder if Sasha will remember that moment when she is grown. Probably not; it
  3581. seems as if I can retrieve only the barest fragments of memory from when I was five.
  3582. But I suspect that the happiness she felt on that parachute registers permanently in her;
  3583. that such moments accumulate and embed themselves in a child’s character, becoming a
  3584. part of their soul. Sometimes, when I listen to Michelle talk about her father, I hear the
  3585. echo of such joy in her, the love and respect that Frasier Robinson earned not through
  3586. fame or spectacular deeds but through small, daily, ordinary acts—a love he earned by
  3587. being there. And I ask myself whether my daughters will be able to speak of me in that
  3588. same way.
  3590. As it is, the window for making such memories rapidly closes. Already Malia seems to
  3591. be moving into a different phase; she’s more curious about boys and relationships, more
  3592. self-conscious about what she wears. She’s always been older than her years, uncannily
  3593. wise. Once, when she was just six years old and we were taking a walk together along
  3594. the lake, she asked me out of the blue if our family was rich. I told her that we weren’t
  3595. really rich, but that we had a lot more than most people. I asked her why she wanted to
  3596. know.
  3598. “Well…I’ve been thinking about it, and I’ve decided I don’t want to be really, really
  3599. rich. I think I want a simple life.”
  3601. Her words were so unexpected that I laughed. She looked up at me and smiled, but her
  3602. eyes told me she’d meant what she said.
  3604. I often think of that conversation. I ask myself what Malia makes of my not-so-simple
  3605. life. Certainly she notices that other fathers attend her team’s soccer games more often
  3606. than I do. If this upsets her, she doesn’t let it show, for Malia tends to be protective of
  3607. other people’s feelings, trying to see the best in every situation. Still, it gives me small
  3608. comfort to think that my eight-year-old daughter loves me enough to overlook my
  3609. shortcomings.
  3611. I was able to get to one of Malia’s games recently, when session ended early for the
  3612. week. It was a fine summer afternoon, and the several fields were full of families when I
  3613. arrived, blacks and whites and Latinos and Asians from all over the city, women sitting
  3614. on lawn chairs, men practicing kicks with their sons, grandparents helping babies to
  3615. stand. I spotted Michelle and sat down on the grass beside her, and Sasha came to sit in
  3616. my lap. Malia was already out on the field, part of a swarm of players surrounding the
  3617. ball, and although soccer’s not her natural sport—she’s a head taller than some of her
  3618. friends, and her feet haven’t yet caught up to her height—she plays with an enthusiasm
  3619. and competitiveness that makes us cheer loudly. At halftime, Malia came over to where
  3620. we were sitting.
  3622. “How you feeling, sport?” I asked her.
  3624. “Great!” She took a swig of water. “Daddy, I have a question.”
  3626. “Shoot.”
  3628. “Can we get a dog?”
  3630. “What does your mother say?”
  3632. “She told me to ask you. I think I’m wearing her down.”
  3634. I looked at Michelle, who smiled and offered a shrug.
  3636. “How about we talk it over after the game?” I said.
  3638. “Okay.” Malia took another sip of water and kissed me on the cheek. “I’m glad you’re
  3639. home,” she said.
  3641. Before I could answer, she had turned around and started back out onto the field. And
  3642. for an instant, in the glow of the late afternoon, I thought I saw my older daughter as the
  3643. woman she would become, as if with each step she were growing taller, her shape
  3644. filling out, her long legs carrying her into a life of her own.
  3646. I squeezed Sasha a little tighter in my lap. Perhaps sensing what I was feeling, Michelle
  3647. took my hand. And I remembered a quote Michelle had given to a reporter during the
  3648. campaign, when he’d asked her what it was like being a political wife.
  3650. “It’s hard,” Michelle had said. Then, according to the reporter, she had added with a sly
  3651. smile, “And that’s why Barack is such a grateful man.”
  3653. As usual, my wife is right.
  3655. Epilogue
  3657. MY SWEARING IN to the U.S. Senate in January 2005 completed a process that
  3658. had begun the day I announced my candidacy two years earlier—the exchange of a
  3659. relatively anonymous life for a very public one.
  3661. To be sure, many things have remained constant. Our family still makes its home in
  3662. Chicago. I still go to the same Hyde Park barbershop to get my hair cut, Michelle and I
  3663. have the same friends over to our house as we did before the election, and our daughters
  3664. still run through the same playgrounds.
  3666. Still, there’s no doubt that the world has changed profoundly for me, in ways that I
  3667. don’t always care to admit. My words, my actions, my travel plans, and my tax returns
  3668. all end up in the morning papers or on the nightly news broadcast. My daughters have to
  3669. endure the interruptions of well-meaning strangers whenever their father takes them to
  3670. the zoo. Even outside of Chicago, it’s becoming harder to walk unnoticed through
  3671. airports.
  3673. As a rule, I find it difficult to take all this attention very seriously. After all, there are
  3674. days when I still walk out of the house with a suit jacket that doesn’t match my suit
  3675. pants. My thoughts are so much less tidy, my days so much less organized than the
  3676. image of me that now projects itself into the world, that it makes for occasional comic
  3677. moments. I remember the day before I was sworn in, my staff and I decided we should
  3678. hold a press conference in our office. At the time, I was ranked ninety-ninth in seniority,
  3679. and all the reporters were crammed into a tiny transition office in the basement of the
  3680. Dirksen Office Building, across the hall from the Senate supply store. It was my first
  3681. day in the building; I had not taken a single vote, had not introduced a single bill—
  3682. indeed I had not even sat down at my desk when a very earnest reporter raised his hand
  3683. and asked, “Senator Obama, what is your place in history?”
  3685. Even some of the other reporters had to laugh.
  3687. Some of the hyperbole can be traced back to my speech at the 2004 Democratic
  3688. Convention in Boston, the point at which I first gained national attention. In fact, the
  3689. process by which I was selected as the keynote speaker remains something of a mystery
  3690. to me. I had met John Kerry for the first time after the Illinois primary, when I spoke at
  3691. his fund-raiser and accompanied him to a campaign event highlighting the importance
  3692. of job-training programs. A few weeks later, we got word that the Kerry people wanted
  3693. me to speak at the convention, although it was not yet clear in what capacity. One
  3694. afternoon, as I drove back from Springfield to Chicago for an evening campaign event,
  3695. Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill called to deliver the news. After I hung up, I
  3696. turned to my driver, Mike Signator.
  3698. “I guess this is pretty big,” I said.
  3700. Mike nodded. “You could say that.”
  3702. I had only been to one previous Democratic convention, the 2000 Convention in Los
  3703. Angeles. I hadn’t planned to attend that convention; I was just coming off my defeat in
  3705. the Democratic primary for the Illinois First Congressional District seat, and was
  3706. determined to spend most of the summer catching up on work at the law practice that
  3707. I’d left unattended during the campaign (a neglect that had left me more or less broke),
  3708. as well as make up for lost time with a wife and daughter who had seen far too little of
  3709. me during the previous six months.
  3711. At the last minute, though, several friends and supporters who were planning to go
  3712. insisted that I join them. You need to make national contacts, they told me, for when
  3713. you run again—and anyway, it will be fun. Although they didn’t say this at the time, I
  3714. suspect they saw a trip to the convention as a bit of useful therapy for me, on the theory
  3715. that the best thing to do after getting thrown off a horse is to get back on right away.
  3717. Eventually I relented and booked a flight to L.A. When I landed, I took the shuttle to
  3718. Hertz Rent A Car, handed the woman behind the counter my American Express card,
  3719. and began looking at the map for directions to a cheap hotel that I’d found near Venice
  3720. Beach. After a few minutes the Hertz woman came back with a look of embarrassment
  3721. on her face.
  3723. “I’m sorry, Mr. Obama, but your card’s been rejected.”
  3725. “That can’t be right. Can you try again?”
  3727. “I tried twice, sir. Maybe you should call American Express.”
  3729. After half an hour on the phone, a kindhearted supervisor at American Express
  3730. authorized the car rental. But the episode served as an omen of things to come. Not
  3731. being a delegate, I couldn’t secure a floor pass; according to the Illinois Party chairman,
  3732. he was already inundated with requests, and the best he could do was give me a pass
  3733. that allowed entry only onto the convention site. I ended up watching most of the
  3734. speeches on various television screens scattered around the Staples Center, occasionally
  3735. following friends or acquaintances into skyboxes where it was clear I didn’t belong. By
  3736. Tuesday night, I realized that my presence was serving neither me nor the Democratic
  3737. Party any apparent purpose, and by Wednesday morning I was on the first flight back to
  3738. Chicago.
  3740. Given the distance between my previous role as a convention gate-crasher and my
  3741. newfound role as convention keynoter, I had some cause to worry that my appearance in
  3742. Boston might not go very well. But perhaps because by that time I had become
  3743. accustomed to outlandish things happening in my campaign, I didn’t feel particularly
  3744. nervous. A few days after the call from Ms. Cahill, I was back in my hotel room in
  3745. Springfield, making notes for a rough draft of the speech while watching a basketball
  3746. game. I thought about the themes that I’d sounded during the campaign—the
  3747. willingness of people to work hard if given the chance, the need for government to help
  3748. provide a foundation for opportunity, the belief that Americans felt a sense of mutual
  3749. obligation toward one another. I made a list of the issues I might touch on—health care,
  3750. education, the war in Iraq.
  3752. But most of all, I thought about the voices of all the people I’d met on the campaign
  3753. trail. I remembered Tim Wheeler and his wife in Galesburg, trying to figure out how to
  3754. get their teenage son the liver transplant he needed. I remembered a young man in East
  3756. Moline named Seamus Ahern who was on his way to Iraq—the desire he had to serve
  3757. his country, the look of pride and apprehension on the face of his father. I remembered a
  3758. young black woman I’d met in East St. Louis whose name I never would catch, but who
  3759. told me of her efforts to attend college even though no one in her family had ever
  3760. graduated from high school.
  3762. It wasn’t just the struggles of these men and women that had moved me. Rather, it was
  3763. their determination, their self-reliance, a relentless optimism in the face of hardship. It
  3764. brought to mind a phrase that my pastor, Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., had once used in
  3765. a sermon.
  3767. The audacity of hope.
  3769. That was the best of the American spirit, I thought—having the audacity to believe
  3770. despite all the evidence to the contrary that we could restore a sense of community to a
  3771. nation torn by conflict; the gall to believe that despite personal setbacks, the loss of a
  3772. job or an illness in the family or a childhood mired in poverty, we had some control—
  3773. and therefore responsibility—over our own fate.
  3775. It was that audacity, I thought, that joined us as one people. It was that pervasive spirit
  3776. of hope that tied my own family’s story to the larger American story, and my own story
  3777. to those of the voters I sought to represent.
  3779. I turned off the basketball game and started to write.
  3783. A FEW WEEKS later, I arrived in Boston, caught three hours’ sleep, and traveled from
  3784. my hotel to the Fleet Center for my first appearance on Meet the Press. Toward the end
  3785. of the segment, Tim Russert put up on the screen an excerpt from a 1996 interview with
  3786. the Cleveland Plain-Dealer that I had forgotten about entirely, in which the reporter had
  3787. asked me—as someone just getting into politics as a candidate for the Illinois state
  3788. senate—what I thought about the Democratic Convention in Chicago.
  3792. The convention’s for sale, right…. You’ve got these $10,000-a-plate dinners, Golden
  3793. Circle Clubs. I think when the average voter looks at that, they rightly feel they’ve been
  3794. locked out of the process. They can’t attend a $10,000 breakfast. They know that those
  3795. who can are going to get the kind of access they can’t imagine.
  3799. After the quote was removed from the screen, Russert turned to me. “A hundred and
  3800. fifty donors gave $40 million to this convention,” he said. “It’s worse than Chicago,
  3801. using your standards. Are you offended by that, and what message does that send the
  3802. average voter?”
  3804. I replied that politics and money were a problem for both parties, but that John Kerry’s
  3805. voting record, and my own, indicated that we voted for what was best for the country. I
  3807. said that a convention wouldn’t change that, although I did suggest that the more
  3808. Democrats could encourage participation from people who felt locked out of the
  3809. process, the more we stayed true to our origins as the party of the average Joe, the
  3810. stronger we would be as a party.
  3812. Privately, I thought my original 1996 quote was better.
  3814. There was a time when political conventions captured the urgency and drama of
  3815. politics—when nominations were determined by floor managers and head counts and
  3816. side deals and arm-twisting, when passions or miscalculation might result in a second or
  3817. third or fourth round of balloting. But that time passed long ago. With the advent of
  3818. binding primaries, the much-needed end to the dominance of party bosses and
  3819. backroom deals in smoke-filled rooms, today’s convention is bereft of surprises. Rather,
  3820. it serves as a weeklong infomercial for the party and its nominee—as well as a means of
  3821. rewarding the party faithful and major contributors with four days of food, drink,
  3822. entertainment, and shoptalk.
  3824. I spent most of the first three days at the convention fulfilling my role in this pageant. I
  3825. spoke to rooms full of major Democratic donors and had breakfast with delegates from
  3826. across the fifty states. I practiced my speech in front of a video monitor, did a walk-
  3827. through of how it would be staged, received instruction on where to stand, where to
  3828. wave, and how to best use the microphones. My communications director, Robert
  3829. Gibbs, and I trotted up and down the stairs of the Fleet Center, giving interviews that
  3830. were sometimes only two minutes apart, to ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, and
  3831. NPR, at each stop emphasizing the talking points that the Kerry-Edwards team had
  3832. provided, each word of which had been undoubtedly tested in a battalion of polls and a
  3833. panoply of focus groups.
  3835. Given the breakneck pace of my days, I didn’t have much time to worry about how my
  3836. speech would go over. It wasn’t until Tuesday night, after my staff and Michelle had
  3837. debated for half an hour over what tie I should wear (we finally settled on the tie that
  3838. Robert Gibbs was wearing), after we had ridden over to the Fleet Center and heard
  3839. strangers shout “Good luck!” and “Give ’em hell, Obama!,” after we had visited with a
  3840. very gracious and funny Teresa Heinz Kerry in her hotel room, until finally it was just
  3841. Michelle and me sitting backstage and watching the broadcast, that I started to feel just
  3842. a tad bit nervous. I mentioned to Michelle that my stomach was feeling a little grumbly.
  3843. She hugged me tight, looked into my eyes, and said, “Just don’t screw it up, buddy!”
  3845. We both laughed. Just then, one of the production managers came into the hold room
  3846. and told me it was time to take my position offstage. Standing behind the black curtain,
  3847. listening to Dick Durbin introduce me, I thought about my mother and father and
  3848. grandfather and what it might have been like for them to be in the audience. I thought
  3849. about my grandmother in Hawaii, watching the convention on TV because her back was
  3850. too deteriorated for her to travel. I thought about all the volunteers and supporters back
  3851. in Illinois who had worked so hard on my behalf.
  3853. Lord, let me tell their stories right, I said to myself. Then I walked onto the stage.
  3857. I WOULD BE lying if I said that the positive reaction to my speech at the Boston
  3858. convention—the letters I received, the crowds who showed up to rallies once we got
  3859. back to Illinois—wasn’t personally gratifying. After all, I got into politics to have some
  3860. influence on the public debate, because I thought I had something to say about the
  3861. direction we need to go as a country.
  3863. Still, the torrent of publicity that followed the speech reinforces my sense of how
  3864. fleeting fame is, contingent as it is on a thousand different matters of chance, of events
  3865. breaking this way rather than that. I know that I am not so much smarter than the man I
  3866. was six years ago, when I was temporarily stranded at LAX. My views on health care or
  3867. education or foreign policy are not so much more refined than they were when I labored
  3868. in obscurity as a community organizer. If I am wiser, it is mainly because I have
  3869. traveled a little further down the path I have chosen for myself, the path of politics, and
  3870. have gotten a glimpse of where it may lead, for good and for ill.
  3872. I remember a conversation I had almost twenty years ago with a friend of mine, an older
  3873. man who had been active in the civil rights efforts in Chicago in the sixties and was
  3874. teaching urban studies at Northwestern University. I had just decided, after three years
  3875. of organizing, to attend law school; because he was one of the few academics I knew, I
  3876. had asked him if he would be willing to give me a recommendation.
  3878. He said he would be happy to write me the recommendation, but first wanted to know
  3879. what I intended to do with a law degree. I mentioned my interest in a civil rights
  3880. practice, and that at some point I might try my hand at running for office. He nodded his
  3881. head and asked whether I had considered what might be involved in taking such a path,
  3882. what I would be willing to do to make the Law Review, or make partner, or get elected
  3883. to that first office and then move up the ranks. As a rule, both law and politics required
  3884. compromise, he said; not just on issues, but on more fundamental things—your values
  3885. and ideals. He wasn’t saying that to dissuade me, he said. It was just a fact. It was
  3886. because of his unwillingness to compromise that, although he had been approached
  3887. many times in his youth to enter politics, he had always declined.
  3889. “It’s not that compromise is inherently wrong,” he said to me. “I just didn’t find it
  3890. satisfying. And the one thing I’ve discovered as I get older is that you have to do what is
  3891. satisfying to you. In fact that’s one of the advantages of old age, I suppose, that you’ve
  3892. finally learned what matters to you. It’s hard to know that at twenty-six. And the
  3893. problem is that nobody else can answer that question for you. You can only figure it out
  3894. on your own.”
  3896. Twenty years later, I think back on that conversation and appreciate my friend’s words
  3897. more than I did at the time. For I am getting to an age where I have a sense of what
  3898. satisfies me, and although I am perhaps more tolerant of compromise on the issues than
  3899. my friend was, I know that my satisfaction is not to be found in the glare of television
  3900. cameras or the applause of the crowd. Instead, it seems to come more often now from
  3901. knowing that in some demonstrable way I’ve been able to help people live their lives
  3902. with some measure of dignity. I think about what Benjamin Franklin wrote to his
  3903. mother, explaining why he had devoted so much of his time to public service: “I would
  3904. rather have it said, He lived usefully, than, He died rich.”
  3906. That’s what satisfies me now, I think—being useful to my family and the people who
  3907. elected me, leaving behind a legacy that will make our children’s lives more hopeful
  3908. than our own. Sometimes, working in Washington, I feel I am meeting that goal. At
  3909. other times, it seems as if the goal recedes from me, and all the activity I engage in—the
  3910. hearings and speeches and press conferences and position papers—are an exercise in
  3911. vanity, useful to no one.
  3913. When I find myself in such moods, I like to take a run along the Mall. Usually I go in
  3914. the early evening, especially in the summer and fall, when the air in Washington is
  3915. warm and still and the leaves on the trees barely rustle. After dark, not many people are
  3916. out—perhaps a few couples taking a walk, or homeless men on benches, organizing
  3917. their possessions. Most of the time I stop at the Washington Monument, but sometimes
  3918. I push on, across the street to the National World War II Memorial, then along the
  3919. Reflecting Pool to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, then up the stairs of the Lincoln
  3920. Memorial.
  3922. At night, the great shrine is lit but often empty. Standing between marble columns, I
  3923. read the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address. I look out over the
  3924. Reflecting Pool, imagining the crowd stilled by Dr. King’s mighty cadence, and then
  3925. beyond that, to the floodlit obelisk and shining Capitol dome.
  3927. And in that place, I think about America and those who built it. This nation’s founders,
  3928. who somehow rose above petty ambitions and narrow calculations to imagine a nation
  3929. unfurling across a continent. And those like Lincoln and King, who ultimately laid
  3930. down their lives in the service of perfecting an imperfect union. And all the faceless,
  3931. nameless men and women, slaves and soldiers and tailors and butchers, constructing
  3932. lives for themselves and their children and grandchildren, brick by brick, rail by rail,
  3933. calloused hand by calloused hand, to fill in the landscape of our collective dreams.
  3935. It is that process I wish to be a part of.
  3937. My heart is filled with love for this country.
  3939. Acknowledgments
  3941. THIS BOOK WOULD have not been possible without the extraordinary support of a
  3942. number of people.
  3944. I have to begin with my wife, Michelle. Being married to a senator is bad enough; being
  3945. married to a senator who is also writing a book requires the patience of Job. Not only
  3946. did Michelle provide emotional support throughout the writing process, but she helped
  3947. me arrive at many of the ideas that are reflected in the book. With each passing day, I
  3948. understand more fully just how lucky I am to have Michelle in my life, and can only
  3949. hope that my boundless love for her offers some consolation for my constant
  3950. preoccupations.
  3952. I want to express as well my gratitude to my editor, Rachel Klayman. Even before I had
  3953. won my Senate primary race, it was Rachel who brought my first book, Dreams from
  3954. My Father, to the attention of Crown Publishers, long after it had gone out of print. It
  3955. was Rachel who championed my proposal to write this book. And it has been Rachel
  3956. who’s been my constant partner in what’s been the frequently difficult but always
  3957. exhilarating effort of bringing this book to completion. At each stage of the editorial
  3958. process, she’s been insightful, meticulous, and unflagging in her enthusiasm. Often
  3959. she’s understood what I was trying to accomplish with the book before I did, and has
  3960. gently but firmly brought me into line whenever I strayed from my own voice and
  3961. slipped into jargon, cant, or false sentiment. Moreover, she’s been incredibly patient
  3962. with my unforgiving Senate schedule and periodic bouts of writer’s block; more than
  3963. once, she’s had to sacrifice sleep, weekends, or vacation time with her family in order to
  3964. see the project through.
  3966. In sum, she’s been an ideal editor—and become a valued friend.
  3968. Of course, Rachel could not have done what she did without the full support of my
  3969. publishers at the Crown Publishing Group, Jenny Frost and Steve Ross. If publishing
  3970. involves the intersection of art and commerce, Jenny and Steve have consistently erred
  3971. on the side of making this book as good as it could possibly be. Their faith in this book
  3972. has led them to go the extra mile time and time again, and for that I am tremendously
  3973. grateful.
  3975. That same spirit has characterized all the people at Crown who’ve worked so hard on
  3976. behalf of this book. Amy Boorstein has been tireless in managing the production
  3977. process despite very tight deadlines. Tina Constable and Christine Aronson have been
  3978. vigorous advocates of the book and have deftly scheduled (and rescheduled) events
  3979. around the demands of my Senate work. Jill Flaxman has worked diligently with the
  3980. Random House sales force and with booksellers to help the book make its way into the
  3981. hands of readers. Jacob Bronstein has produced—for the second time—an outstanding
  3982. audio version of the book in less than ideal circumstances. To all of them I offer my
  3983. heartfelt thanks, as I do to the other members of the Crown team: Lucinda Bartley,
  3984. Whitney Cookman, Lauren Dong, Laura Duffy, Skip Dye, Leta Evanthes, Kristin Kiser,
  3985. Donna Passannante, Philip Patrick, Stan Redfern, Barbara Sturman, Don Weisberg, and
  3986. many others.
  3988. Several good friends, including David Axelrod, Cassandra Butts, Forrest Claypool,
  3989. Julius Genachowski, Scott Gration, Robert Fisher, Michael Froman, Donald Gips, John
  3990. Kupper, Anthony Lake, Susan Rice, Gene Sperling, Cass Sunstein, and Jim Wallis took
  3991. the time to read the manuscript and provided me with invaluable suggestions. Samantha
  3992. Power deserves special mention for her extraordinary generosity; despite being in the
  3993. middle of writing her own book, she combed over each chapter as if it were hers,
  3994. providing me with a steady flow of useful comments even as she cheered me up
  3995. whenever my spirits or energy were flagging.
  3997. A number of my Senate staff, including Pete Rouse, Karen Kornbluh, Mike
  3998. Strautmanis, Jon Favreau, Mark Lippert, Joshua DuBois, and especially Robert Gibbs
  3999. and Chris Lu, read the manuscript on their own time and provided me with editorial
  4000. suggestions, policy recommendations, reminders, and corrections. Thanks to all of them
  4001. for literally going beyond the call of duty.
  4003. A former staffer, Madhuri Kommareddi, devoted the summer before she entered Yale
  4004. Law School to fact-check the entire manuscript. Her talent and energy leave me
  4005. breathless. Thanks as well to Hillary Schrenell, who volunteered to help Madhuri with a
  4006. number of research items in the foreign policy chapter.
  4008. Finally, I want to thank my agent, Bob Barnett of Williams and Connolly, for his
  4009. friendship, skill, and support. It’s made a world of difference.
  4013. BARACK OBAMA is the junior U.S. Senator from Illinois. He began his career as a
  4014. community organizer in some of Chicago’s poorest communities and then attended
  4015. Harvard Law School, where he was elected the first African American president of the
  4016. Harvard Law Review. In 1992, he directed Illinois Project VOTE, which registered
  4017. 150,000 new voters. From 1997 to 2004, he served as a three-term state senator from
  4018. Chicago’s South Side. In addition to his legislative duties, he has been a senior lecturer
  4019. in constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School, practiced civil rights
  4020. law, and served on the board of directors of various charitable organizations.
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