Change We Can Believe In by Barack Obama

The books, published in 2008, starts with a foreword from Obama, informing the reader why he is running for the presidency. Drawing on the challenges that previous US Presidents faced, such as Franklin D Roosevelt during the Great Depression and John F Kennedy during the Cold-War with the Soviet Union, Barack Obama says that he is answering to a call in “this defining moments of American history” after seeing the country run by people with “flawed policies” and “failed leadership”.

He also highlights his improbable story, as someone born to an African from Kenya Barack Obama Snr, who went to school with a goatskin bag, and a woman from Arkansas, Ann, who brought him up alongside his maternal grandparents.  With this background, he says, nowhere in the world is his story possible, directly appealing to the American Dream. After dealing with his background, Barack Obama proffers the policies he will pursue once he earned the votes of the US electorate to run the White House.

In sweeping, fresh policy ideas, he sets a strong case for rebuilding what he described as a “broken economy” in 2008 after “eight years of the George W Bush administration tilted the economy towards the wealthy and high-priced lobbyists”.  He promises to jump-start the US economy, by making work pay, cut tax for middle-class Americans, help Small Businesses grow and cut the deficit left by the Bush administration. In his reforms, Obama is brutally honest that for all these reforms to be ushered in “we must change the way Washington is run”. 

He holds the view that for far too long “Washington has followed misguided policies, missed opportunities and ideological adherence to discredited ideas”.  This, he thinks, must change if the US is to be the innovative, respectable, global leader in the world. Among his programmes to change the way Washington works, he offers to run a government that is “transparent with the American public, share all governments businesses online for anyone interested to know what the government is up to”. He also pledges to appoint people in public offices, not “based on ideology, but experience and competence”.  And we have seen that with his appointment of Roberts Gates, who served under Bush as Defence Secretary and his successor Chuck Hagel, all believed to be on the Right of US politics or Republicans if you will.

On education, the book also details the reforms that Obama planned. While he promises to support the “good intension behind” George Bush’s flagship education policy of No Child Left behind (NCLB), Obama rails against the approach of the policy, which “alienated principals and educationalist”, and as a result churning out bad result. Obama is deeply concerned that the US was not nurturing the next generation of US leaders for the high-quality and high-skilled jobs. The policies he outlines in the book under the theme of Plan were to recruit, retain, reward teachers for teaching US students. In return, he argues, a lot will be expected from teachers to help students have the education that the 21st century calls for.  

On healthcare, he promises to make it more affordable for the average American. Healthcare, he says, is one of the biggest drains on America’s pocketbooks, and among the biggest insecurities families’ faces are the threat of losing their healthcare coverage or getting sick or injured and not being able to afford high-quality care. He expresses his determination to change this. And, with the benefit of hindsight, since he took over office, he has pursed this policy with gusto, prompting some political commentators to derisively call the policy “Obamacare”.

In this gripping Book it is admirable how Obama was able to grasp both the difficulties and opportunities that the US faces, and why it must embrace these challenges and opportunities. One of the areas that presented a challenge, he notes, to the Bush administration was the inability or unwillingness to seize on the opportunities that Technology and the internet provides. He points out that many of the jobs are now moving away from US going to people in Bangalore (India) or Beijing (China).  To change this, he promises to invest in Research and Development to boost the competitive edge of the US in this area.

The Presidential hopeful, as Obama was then, also comes up with a policy on championing green energy. He promises to invest in biofuels, solar and wind turbines for a secured climate, and create five million green jobs for the US economy. This is what he had to say on page 21: “I will launch a new energy policy that helps ease the burden of high gasoline prices, free us from relying on monarchs and tyrants for energy supplies, and slow global warming”. 

Tackling the crumbling infrastructural state of the US was also a central plank of his policies. He promises investments on roads, bridges, rails and other forms of transportations to help ease communication, connection, trade and commerce.  He compares and contrasts the poor state in which the US infrastructure was to countries like China, and floats a plan to revamp them back to serve the needs of the 21st century. He is totally convinced that the US should change its infrastructure to move with time, or else competitive nations like China will edge past them. On Trade negotiations that that previous US governments have ratified – like the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – he expresses his frustration that the US is not benefiting deeply from this trade deal. He questions how could other countries send their goods in the US whiles the US cannot do the same?


American standing in the 

world and Foreign policy

This chapter opens with a quote from Admiral John Nathman, retired Navy Chief, who said: “The qualities of an individual that allow him or her to lead can include experience, and senator Obama has served admirably on the Senate Foreign Relation Committee. But the most important qualities of a good leader are integrity, character and judgment……. Senator Obama is a leader. He will lead America well”.

On Foreign policy, as someone who opposed the war in Iraq, Obama makes it unequivocal his intension to withdraw the US military from Iraq, who are fighting a war he said “should not have been waged in the first place. He believes that the war against Al Qaeda was the real battle against terrorism. Promising that he will end the war in Iraq responsibly, he also asserts that he will finish the fight against Al Qaeda and turn the tide against global terror. Has he achieved that?

He actually has withdrawn US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving residual troops to train the armies of these two countries. But some analyst pinned the rise of the vile Islamic State Group partly on his decision to withdraw US troops from Iraq. On turning the tide against terrorist, a lot is yet to be achieved on this front. Very recently groups described as extremist groups are in control of vast swathes of Ramadi in Iraq and Palmariya in Syria. 

But there was a scenario depicted by Obama which was very revealing on page 117 of the book about Osama bil Laden, he says: “If the US has actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets inside Pakistan, such as Osama bil Laden and Pakistan will not act and Obama administration will”. Bear in mind reader that this book was written in 2008. And on May 2, 2011 this was exactly what happened – and what Obama did. He got intelligence that Osama bil Laden was in Abbottabad, Pakistan. He sent Navy Seal commandos to finish him off, keeping the Islamabad (Pakistani) government in the dark. If only future Presidents are prophet. Obama proved to be one, because the way he depicted the scenario in his book is exactly how it turned out.  

Another interesting area was on Iran. Obama makes clear that he will go for “tough”, and “aggressive “diplomacy” to stop the Iranian government from producing a nuclear weapon, backed by punitive sanctions. He wrote the book at a time when hardliners were parching on top of the day to day running of Tehran. But this changed when Hassan Rouhani came to power in 2013, bringing a thaw in the icy relationship between the US and Iran. Since then partial sanctions are lifted and Iran is negotiating the final framework agreement on its nuclear programme with the P5 plus 1 (US, UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany). 


Kicking off campaign and winning 

The final chapter of the book contains a collection of Barack Obama’s campaign speeches. The first speech was his campaign launch speech in Springfield, Illinois. A relatively unknown candidate them among many Americans, he gives a moving speech, rousing his audience on the importance of coming together to reclaim the American Dream. 

During the campaign, we learned through the pages the decency, respect that candidate Obama showed to his opponents on both side of the political spectrum. During the Democratic primaries, he thanked Hilary Clinton on a “hard-fought” victory in New Hampshire. He also extolled Joe Biden and other candidates for serving the US “honorably”. When he won the Democrat ticket he said of McCain: “He deserves credit for talking about improving our economy”.

Even when Republican-cheering media starts muddling the political waters for him, by compiling racist slurs that his pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright used against whites, a calm Obama was able to give a speech dissecting racism in American touching on all sides, falling short of disowning Jeremiah Wright, who oversaw his marriage to Michelle and baptised his two daughters Malia and Sasha.

Change We Can Believe In is a most read for anyone interested in knowing how Obama was able to rally American’s to his cause, taking on and defeating –  not only the Clinton political juggernaut machine –  but the “cynical, skeptical, doubtful” conventional wisdom which says he can’t. His reaction: YES We Can. I strongly recommend the book to anyone interested in the politics and policies of one of the greatest phenomenons of the 21st century, Barack Obama.     


The Book is available at Timbokoto Book Shop in Bakau for D400   

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