I was a little hesitant to post this for a while. My concept of the What I’m Reading section of this site was to give some insight into what kind of reading material inspires me as a writer, and this isn’t even close. Still, I read it, and that plus honesty in blogging counts for something to me.
A second caveat: I am, I admit, one of those Americans who really doesn’t care about politics. I want to care. I wish I cared the way certain people wished they could stand the taste of coffee. Caring about politics is one of those marks of sophistication; knowing what’s happening in the news is a decent litmus test of savviness, and a kind of adult mentality. I fail every time. I try to watch debates or Presidential speeches, and halfway through I end up shamefacedly reading webcomics, typing the url really slowly in hopes that no one will realize what I’m doing. It’s like inching through a red light in hopes that people won’t recognize that you’re moving til you’re through. Then, as if that isn’t enough, the opinions in The Mendacity of Hope aren’t even ones I necessarily agree with. I like Obama. I voted for him proudly in 2008, and since then I’ve let him be and assumed he’d do a decent job with the country.
So why in the world did I pick up this book to read, if it’s such a literary and political anomaly for me? A couple reasons. I realized an election is coming up in the not-too-distant future again, and since I refuse to vote blindly, I’ll need to put together some idea of what’s going on if I want to participate again. I miss my college Sociology classes. With my double major, I got to spend plenty of time writing creatively, but also plenty of time reading the works of great social theorists, and arguing, living in logic as well as creativity. Nowadays, I’m just in the one program, the MFA. Sure, I’ll read a few articles on spiked.com from time to time, but I missed reading something big, something I didn’t always understand, something that would force me to think hard just to keep up. Jumping into politics with a book on why Obama is disillusioning the country seemed like a great way to get a mental argument rolling. Mostly, though, expanding my horizons is incredibly important to me. I am never happy with how much I know right now, and as long as I can squeeze any amount of time from my schedule and energy from my mind, I’m determined to find a way to learn things. Now, on to The Mendacity of Hope:
The book itself is very well done, I have to say. What I appreciated was how self-aware the author strived to be of his own leanings. The introduction establishes that yes, clearly, Obama is miles better than W., no matter what complaints still exist. Hodge acknowledges that in his quest for directness, he may come off rude, which is nice, and for the most part he doesn’t. He comes off as someone who is frustrated with the American political system as a whole, and frustrated anew by the fact that a president who swore to change how that system operated is not, in fact, doing so. A large portion of the book explores political thinkers when America was a baby: Jefferson and Hamilton and so on. The question of The Mendacity of Hope is less about whether Obama lied to/misled his voting audience, and more about the patterns of power and, inevitably, money in American politics. The great lie at stake isn’t any campaign promise, but the idea that the country can operate according to the “by the people, for the people” dream it was built on at all. It’s not the most hopeful stuff, but it is really interesting. I don’t understand most of the details of what he’s saying, but the whole piece he’s putting together here has some neat questions wrapped in it.
That said, I do have a few complaints. There’s one instance where he basically comes out and says he thinks Christianity is belief in a bunch of fairy stories. I think there was no call for that. He wasn’t talking about voters’ religions influencing anything, or Obama’s, or even the founding fathers. It came off as a stab from his own personal agenda against religion, and without having a properly justified context in the book, I don’t see it having any result other than alienating readers. Religion is still overwhelmingly the norm, and even if many intelligent people are atheists, I doubt they’d stop reading a book if an author failed to make a crack at Christians. There are plenty of other analogies out there that don’t strike at the most important aspect of many people’s lives, and I’m sick of people insinuating that I’m less intelligent because of what I believe.
Besides that, which is admittedly a pet peeve, although also a sloppy moment in a mostly crisp book, I wasn’t convinced by Hodge’s arguments that Obama is to blame for what he feels is a rather toothless health care reform. I seem to remember, even from the political hole I usually live in, that for about a year, anytime Obama mentioned the topic, it would go like this:
Obama: Health care–
Opponents: You want to murder my grandparents!
Obama, No, I just wanted to say that health–
Opponents: You’ll club them to death like baby seals!!!
Opponents (jamming fingers into their ears): BABY SEALS!!!!!
There were people who didn’t make it easy to pass things, is what I’m saying.
At any rate, this was still supposed to be more book review than political rant. Expanding horizons is all very well and good, but if you want to stay smart when you talk, probably stick with what you know! So: did I enjoy The Mendacity of Hope? Yes. Will I become involved in the political news du jour from now on? Almost certainly not. Will I pick up another political book to read sometime soon? Maybe. I’ve only seen the one side now, after all. There’s another story out there.