I have two items for my write-up today of Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.
1. On pages 40-41, Obama talks about a lesson that his step-father Lolo was teaching him. Lolo said: “Men take advantage of weakness in other men. They’re just like countries in that way. The strong man takes the weak man’s land. He makes the weak man work in his fields. If the weak man’s woman is pretty, the strong man will take her…Which would you rather be? Better to be strong. If you can’t be strong, be clever and make peace with someone who’s strong. But always better to be strong yourself. Always.”
I suppose that’s the rationalization behind the Vietnam War and neo-conservative foreign policy: that we have to be strong so that others will fear and respect us. But some on the Right will argue that President Obama does not follow this policy because he apologizes to other countries for what the U.S. has done in the past. There may be a point to exuding strength, but I think there’s also a place for what some consider to be weakness—-apologizing when one is wrong, for example. See here to read about a situation in which that actually worked.
Something else that I was thinking about when I read that passage: It’s hard for individuals to show strength when it’s against the law for them to forcefully stand up for themselves. In the real world, we cannot punch people who try to run all over us, because then we could be arrested for assault. That probably does not apply to self-defense, however.
2. On page 55, Obama said regarding his grandfather: “Gramps had left the furniture business to become a life insurance agent, but as he was unable to convince himself that people needed what he was selling and was sensitive to rejection, the work went badly.”
The reason that this passage stood out to me was that I remembered Ann Coulter criticizing Obama’s grandfather in a piece that she wrote on Dreams from My Father. She calls him “Obama’s good-for-nothing, chronically unemployed white grandfather”.
I haven’t yet read the part of the book that Ann Coulter discusses in her column. But, based on what I have read so far in the book, I do believe that Obama’s grandfather tried. He read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People and was able to make friends easily with his humor, his storytelling, and his interest in others. As you can tell from the passage, he had jobs, for he was in the furniture business and then was selling life insurance. And he had dreams and ambitions in terms of writing and art.
Maybe he wasn’t successful. Perhaps he struggled with a lack of self-confidence, in areas. That doesn’t mean he was good-for-nothing. I get so sick of people’s judgmentalism, especially the sort of judgmentalism that I see on the Right, which looks down on those who are not successful. I’ll admit that the Left has its share of judgmentalism, for many of its adherents act as if those who disagree with them lack intelligence. But the judgmentalism on the Right especially peeves me.