Inauguration Morning: Obama’s “Dreams”; His Words, Then & Now

By Thomas Nagorski

Jan 20, 2009 9:46am

From ABC’s Senior Producer Tom Nagorski…

We had an "inauguration breakfast" at home this morning — my eleven-year-old daughter dressed in red, white and blue, she and her six-year-old brother studying the morning papers in ways they don’t normally, both excited about the midday hour at school, when classes will break to watch the festivities.

Their father — beyond regular newsroom duties — has been busy finishing Obama’s "Dreams From My Father". I probably should have read it some time ago, given what I do for a living — at least after he became the nominee, and certainly once he became the President-elect. Somehow, though, the time went, the new year was upon us, the inauguration ten days away, when a colleague — having heard me talking about the book — kindly went and bough me a copy.

I’ll spare you my review (there are roughly four hundred reviews on the Amazon site alone) and just share one thought, and a few excerpts.

The thought — which kept occuring to me as I read: What about all the bit players in his story, the passers-by (the Englishman on the plane; the man from Senegal on a train; the teenager he plays basketball with; the Masai tribesman; and so on)? Do they recall their chance encounters of two decades past, with the man who will rule the most powerful nation on the planet? Have they read these stories? Did they have a notion then that this man might accomplish great things?

As for the excerpts — any number of passages make one pause to reflect, imagining how the man who wrote these words might make use of such experience. I list only a few here:

Obama’s Indonesian stepfather offers this advice to the young boy: "Better to be strong. If you can’t be strong, be clever and make peace with someone who’s strong."

When Obama suggests he may skip college — a friend chides him for lack of "effort": "Remember what that’s like? Effort? Damn it, Bar, you can’t just sit around like some good-time Charlie, waiting for luck to see you through."

Obama himself, upset that "the endless falsehoods that white people spoke about black" — grows particularly bitter because "Now I was hearing the same thing from black people I respected, people with more excuses for bitterness than I might ever claim for myself. Who told you that being honest was a white thing? they asked me. Who sold you this bill of goods, that your situation exempted you from being thoughtful or diligent or kind, or that morality had a color?"

To his fellow community organizers in Chicago: "You know, I didn’t come here ’cause I needed a job. I came here ’cause…there were some people who were serious about doing something to change their neighborhoods. I don’t care what’s happened in the past."

Reverend Jeremiah Wright, to Obama, in the mid-1980s: "Life’s not safe for a black man in this country, Barack. Never has been. Probably never will be."

And there is this — as Obama visits the Masai and comes upon a tribe of hyenas feeding on a carcass, vultures circling above: "I thought to myself: This is what Creation looked like. The same stillness, the same crunching of bone. There in the dusk, over that hill, I imagined the first man stepping forward, naked and rough-skinned, grasping a chunk of flint in his clumsy hand, no words yet for the fear, the anticipation, the awe he feels at the sky, the glimmering knowledge of his own death. If only we could remember that first common step, that first common word — that time before Babel."

Good luck, Mr. Obama.

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