Obama sometimes seems SO much like a Nancy Pelosi pol that I could just scream (I can't think of anything I could do that would actually have an impact.)
However, the list of books he took on vacation has been released and it includes a few interesting novels, to say the least, which cause me to maybe see Obama in a different light. The least interesting is Plainsong, about some midwesterners from the flatlands drifting through sad lives. Though I enjoyed Plainsong, if he was looking for a book set in the midwest, I would much rather he had chosen Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, which is mostly set in a small town in Iowa and which is truly one of the great books of our time, though it is as quietly written, as unpretentious, as any you could imagine.
Obama has also chosen to read The Way Home by George Pelecanos. ANY book by George Pelecanos is worth reading, though this latest didn't get quite the reviews some of his others have. I haven't read it yet. According to critics, it deals with the juvenile justice system, and Pelecanos has not hidden his criticism of it, so some have said it seems more a polemic than a thriller. Pelecanos doesn't ever hide his perspectives on justice, crime, the terrible travails of poor people outside DC. His books are so good and so compelling because his characters are so very real and so terribly poignant: a mix of taudry and decent and mixed up and at times heroic, that it is easy to come to understand his points of view. Richard Price's The Lush Life is the second really interesting book Obama is planning to read. Price is another author who peels back the skin of city life. And I haven't read this one, though I will.
That he wants to read these two authors suggests that Obama is in his heart both the Chicago politician and the community organizer, and that perhaps he sees the world most with through these experiences. This is a good thing, but I'm having a hard time explaining it clearly. Pelecanos writes of a world in which nothing is pure, in which the most all-American looking young couple can be small-time gun-runners, in which addicts die in filth, in which a few people manage to maintain their dignity without blinding themselves to the corruption around them. The heroes, of course themselves flawed, understand that sometimes people cheat, and worse and sometimes they don't care to consider alternatives and that they aren't necessarily bad or good, and that the system works best for the powerful. No knight on a white horse is going to gallop into Pelecanos's world and cleanse it of its sins.
So here I am, a liberal who shares with many the current extreme annoyance that Obama doesn't seem to manage to do anything "pure." His AG is going to have hearings on the torture during the Bush years, BUT some people, probably the higher ups, will escape prosecution; he's pushing for health care reform BUT (and you all know the buts here); he has let the rich keep their wealth in his economic reforms, etc. etc. And yet it occurs to me, maybe he's on the right track. Maybe the nation, of which Pelecanos's DC suburbs are a microcosm, is woven together with such bonds of corruption and bloodiness and power that you can't come in on a white horse and undo it. Maybe Obama feels like he's dealing with a camel with a very fragile back: too much from him and it would break. Or a time bomb whose wires he has to undo very, very carefully. Who knows?