Table of Contents

Chapter One

  • I am angry about policies that consistently favor the wealthy and powerful over average Americans, and insist that government has an important role in opening up opportunity to all.
  • ... our values and spiritual life matter at least as much as our GDP.
  • In the world's greatest deliberative body, no one is listening.
  • We know that our health-care system is broken: wildly expensive, terribly inefficient, and poorly adapted to an economy no longer built on lifetime employment, a system that exposes hardworking Americans to chronic insecurity and possible destitution.
  • ... the point at which denunciations of capitalism or American imperialism came too easily, and the freedom from the constraints of monogamy or religion was proclaimed without fully understanding the value of such constraints, and the role of victim was too readily embraced as a means of shedding responsibility, or asserting entitlement, or claiming moral superiority over those not so victimized... Reagan's, John Wayne, Father Knows Best pose, his policy by anecdote, and his gratuitous assaults on the poor...
  • ... how deeply felt the conflicts of the sixties must have been for the men and women who came of age at that time, and the degree to which the arguments of the era were understood not simply as political disputes but as individual choices that defined personal identity and moral standing... The fury of the counterculture may have dissipated into consumerism.
  • ... social responsibility but personal responsibility was needed to combat poverty.
  • ... with market - or faith-based solutions to social policy.
  • ... deficit reduction can't take place on the backs of the poor.
  • Instead of the "compassionate conservatism" that George Bush promised in his 2000 campaign, what has characterized the ideological core of today's GOP is absolutism, not conservatism. There is the absolutism of the free market, an ideology of no taxes, no regulation, no safety net - indeed, no government beyond what's required to protect private property and provide for the national defense.
  • ... bereft of the energy and new ideas needed to address the changing circumstances of globilization or a stubornly isolated inner city.
  • ... the Democratic Party has become the party of reaction.
  • What's needed is a broad majority of Americans - Democrats, republicans, and independents of goodwill - who are reengaged in the project of national renewal, and who see their own self-interest as inextricably linked to the interests of others.
  • Unless political leaders are open to new ideas and not just new packaging, we won't change enough hearts and minds to initiate a serious energy policy ot tame the deficit. We won't have the popular support to craft a foreign policy that meets the challenges of globilization or terrorism without resorting to isolationism or eroding civil liberties.
  • ... in a letter I sent to the left leaning blog Daily Kos in September 2005..
  • ... a politics with the maturity to balance idealism and realism.

Chapter Two

  • ... one of the differences between ideology and values: Values are faithfully applied to the facts before us, while ideology overrides whatever facts call theory into question.
  • In 1980, the average CEO made forty-two times what an average hourly worker took home. By 2005, the ratio was 262 to 1.
  • After all, talk is cheap; like any value, empathy must be acted upon.
  • By these standards at least, it sometimes appears that Americans today value nothing so much as being rich, thin, young, famous, safe, and entertained. We say we value the legacy we leave the next generation and then saddle that generation with mountains of debt. We say we believe in equal opportunity but then stand idle while millions of American children languish in poverty. We insist that we value family, but then structure our economy and organize our lives so as to ensure that our families get less and less of our time.

Chapter Three

  • ... whose rules and design reflect the grand compromise of America's founding: the bargain between Northern states and Southern states, the Senate's role as a guardian against the passions of the moment, a defender of minority rights and state sovereignty, but also a tool to protect the wealthy from the rabble, and assure slaveholders of noninterference with their particular institution.
  • Maybe like those who reject Darwin in favor of intelligent design, I prefer to assume that someone's at the wheel.
  • ... "no man felt himself obliged to retain his opinions any longer than he was satisfied of their propriety and truth, and was open to the force of argument."

Chapter Four

  • These days, almost every congressional district is drawn by the ruling party with computer-driven precision to ensure that a clear majority of Democrats or Republicans reside within its borders. Indeed, it;s not a stretch to say that most voters no longer choose their representatives; instead, representatives choose their voters.
  • ... I learned one of the cardinal rules of modern politics: Do the poll before you announce.
  • It's that unlike most people, who have the luxury of licking their wounds privately, the politician's loss is on public display... - no matter how convincingly you attribute the loss to bad timing or bad luck or lack of money - it's impossible not to feel at some level as if you have been personally repudiated by the entire community, that you don't quite have what it takes, and that everywhere you go the word "loser" is flashing through people's minds.
  • In politics, there may be second acts, but there is no second place.
  • ... without money, and the television ads that consume all the money, you are pretty much guaranteed to lose... media consultant, David Axelrod.
  • ..."signs don't vote," meaning that you can't judge a race by how many signs a candidate has.
  • The longer you are a senator, the narrower the scope of your interactions. You may fight it, with town hall meetings and listening tours and stops by the old neighborhood. But your schedule dictates that you move in a different orbit from most of the people you represent.
  • The problems of ordinary people, the voices of the Rust Belt town or the dwindling heartland, become a distant echo rather than a palpable reality, abstractions to be managed rather than battles to be fought.
  • ... organized people can be just as important as cash... if you are a candidate in need of political workers or voter lists, you go where people are already organized. For Democrats, this means the unions, the environmental groups, and the pro-choice groups. For Republicans, it means the religious right, local chambers of commerce, the NRA, and the antitax organizations.
  • ... Forty or fifty years ago, that force would have been the party apparatus: the big-city bosses, the political fixers, the power brokers in Washington who could make or break a career with a phone call. Today, that force is the media.
  • I - like every politician at the federal level - am almost entirely dependent on the media to reach my constituents.
  • ... a single ill-considered remark can generate more bad publicity than years of ill-considered policies.
  • ... In that sense, the episode hinted at a more subtle and corrosive aspect of modern media - how a particular narrative, repeated over and over again and hurled through cyberspace at the speed of light, eventually becomes a hard particle of reality; how political caricatures and nuggets of conventional wisdom lodge themselves in our brain without us ever taking the time to examine them.
  • The spin, the amplification of conflict, the indiscriminate search for scandal and miscues - the cumulative impact of all this is to erode any agreed-upon standards for judging the truth.
  • ... there is no great reward in store for those who speak the truth.      

Chapter Five

  • ... we are going through a fundamental economic transformation. Advances in digital technology, fiber optics, the Internet, satellites, and transportation have effectively leveled the economic barriers between countries and continents. Pools of capital scour the earth in search of the best returns, with trillions of dollars moving across borders with only a few keystrokes. The collapse of the soviet Union, the institution of market-based reforms in India and China, the lowering of trade barriers, and the advent of big-box retailers like Wal-Mart have brought several billion people into direct competition with American companies and American workers. Whether or not the world is already flat, as columnist and author Thomas Friedman says, it is certainly getting flatter every day.
  • Or, as Ronald Reagan succinctly put it: "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."
  • A strategy of doing nothing and letting globalization run its course won't result in the imminent collapse of the U.S. economy... U.S.- based companies continue to hold an edge in such knowledge-based sectors as software design and pharmaceutical research, and our network of universities and colleges remains the envy of the world... doing nothing probably means an America very different from the one most of us grew up in. It will mean a nation even more stratified economically and socially than it currently is: one in which an increasingly prosperous knowledge class, living in exclusive enclaves, will be able to purchase whatever they want on the marketplace - private schools, private health care, private security, and private jets - while a growing number of their fellow citizens are consigned to low-paying service jobs, vulnerable to dislocation, pressed to work longer hours, dependent on an underfunded, overburdened, and underperforming public sector for their health care, their retirement, and their children's education's... as economic frustration boils over and leads people to turn on each other... It's the absence of a national commitment to take the tough steps necessary to make America more competitive and the absence of a new consensus around the appropriate role of government in the marketplace.
  • ... "the chief business of the American people is business"... in America money is how we keep score.
  • ... The bankruptcy of communism and socialism as alternative means of economic organization has only reinforced this assumption. In our standard economics textbooks and in our modern political debates, laissez-faire is the default rule; anyone who would challenge it swims against the prevailing tide. 
  • The Hoover Dam, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the interstate highway system, the Internet, the Human Genome Project - time and again, government investment has helped pave the way for an explosion of private economic activity. And through the creation of a system of public schools and institutions of higher education, as well ass programs like the GI Bill that made a college education available to millions, government has helped provide individuals the tools to adapt and innovate in a climate of constant technological change.
  • One cure for economic depression was putting more disposable income in the pockets of American workers... "People who are hungry, people who are out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made."
  • ... what mix of policies will lead to a dynamic free market and widespread economic security, entrepreneurial innovation and upward mobility.
  • ... investments in education, science and technology, and energy independence.
  • In a knowledge-based economy where eight of the nine fastest-growing occupations this decade require scientific or technological skills, most workers are going to need some form of higher education to fill the jobs of the future.
  • Over the last five years, the average tuition and fees at four-year public colleges, adjusted for inflation, have risen 40 percent... There are a number of steps we can take to control costs and improve access to higher education. States can limit annual tuition increases at public universities... institutions of higher learning have served as the nation's primary research and development laboratories.
  • If we want an innovation economy, one that generates more Googles each year, then we have to invest in our future innovators - by doubling federal funding of basic research over the next five years, training one hundred thousand more engineers and scientists over the next four years, or providing new research grants to the most outstanding early-career researchers in the country... we can afford to do hat needs to be done. What's missing is not money, but a national sense of urgency.
  • ... instead of subsidizing the oil industry, we should end every single tax break the industry currently receives and demand that 1 percent of the revenues from oil companies with over $1 billion in quarterly profits go toward financing alternative energy research and the necessary infrastructure. Not only would such a project pay huge economic, foreign policy, and environmental dividends - it could be the vehicle by which we train an entire new generation of American scientists and engineers and a source of new export industries and high-wage jobs.
  • A nation that can't control its energy sources can't control its future.
  • In fact, over the past five years, statistics consistently show that the wages of American jobs being lost are higher than the wages of American jobs being created.
  • Any efforts at protectionism will be counterproductive - and it will make their children worse off in the bargain.
  • The U.S. economy is now so integrated with the rest of the world, and digital commerce so widespread, that it's hard to even imagine, much less enforce, and effective regime of protectionism. A tariff on imported steel may give temporary relief to U.S. steel producers, but it will make every U.S. manufacturer that uses steel in its products less competitive on the world market... when it comes to trade there are few borders left.
  • The wages of the average American worker have barely kept pace with inflation over the past two decades. Since 1988, the average family's health insurance costs have quadrupled. Personal savings rates have never been lower. And levels of personal debt have never been higher.
  • Philosophy behind the Ownership Society seems to be "You're on your own."
  • We can raise the minimum wage... update the existing system of unemployment insurance and trade adjustment assistance.
  • We should have tougher penalties to prevent employers from firing or discriminating against workers involved in organizing efforts.
  • Bankruptcy laws should be amended to move pension beneficiaries to the front of the creditor line so that companies can't just file for Chapter 11 to stiff workers. Moreover, new rules should force companies to properly fund their pension funds, in part so taxpayers don't end up footing the bill.
  • ... health insurance can't just run through employers anymore. It needs to be portable.
  • 20 percent of all patients account for 80 percent of the care.
  • To further drive down costs, we would require that insurers and providers who participate in Medicare, Medicaid, or the new health plans have electronic claims, electronic records, and up-to-date patient error reporting systems.
  • ... we ran up the national credit card so that the biggest beneficiaries of the global economy could keep an even bigger share of the take.
    So far we've been able to get away with this mountain of debt because foreign central banks - particularly China's - want us to keep buying their exports. But this easy credit won't continue forever. At some point, foreigners will stop lending us money, interest rates will go up, and we will spend most of our nation's output paying them back.
  • "IF THERE'S CLASS warfare going on in America, then my class is winning."
  • I happen to have a talent for allocating capital. - Warren Buffet
  • Between 1971 and 2001, while the median wage and salary income of the average worker showed literally no gain, the income of the top hundredth of a percent went up almost 500 percent.
  • ... we have always been in a constant balancing act between self-interest and community, markets and democracy, the concentration of wealth and power and the opening up of opportunity. We've lost that balance in Washington, I think.

Chapter Six

  • But for the most part, traditional religious practice - and certainly religious fundamentalism - was considered incompatible with modernity, at most a refuge of the poor and uneducated from the hardships of life.
  • My grandfather, the dreamer in our family, possessed the sort of restless soul that might have found refuge in religious belief had it not been for those characteristics - an innate rebelliousness, a complete inability to discipline his appetites, and a broad tolerance of other people's weaknesses - that precluded him from getting too serious about anything.
  • ... organized religion too often dressed up close-mindedness in the garb of piety, cruelty and oppression in the cloak of righteousness.
  • Religion was an expression of human culture, she would explain, not its wellspring, just one of the many ways - and not necessarily the best way - that man attempted to control the unknowable and understand the deeper truths about our lives.
  • - in the goodness of people and in the ultimate value of this brief life we've each been given.
  • Moreover, that self-assuredness disabled in him the instincts for self-censorship that allow most people to navigate the world without getting into constant fistfights... He labeled all homosexuals - including Dick Cheney's daughter - "selfish hedonists"... income tax ("the slave tax")
  • Liberalism teaches us to be tolerant of other people's religious beliefs, so long as those beliefs don't cause anyone harm or impinge on another's right to believe differently... organized religion, is a very public affair.
  • Scrub language of all religious content and we forfeit the imagery and terminology through which millions of Americans understand both their personal morality and social justice. Imagine Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address without reference to "the judgements of the Lord," or King's "I Have a Dream" speech without reference to "all of God's children." Their summoning of a higher truth helped inspire what had seemed impossible and move the nation to embrace a common destiny.
  • They are also rooted in societal indifference and individual callousness - the desire among those at the top of the social ladder to maintain their wealth and status whatever the cost, as well as the despair and self-destructiveness among those at the bottom of the social ladder.
  • I believe in vigorous enforcement of our nondiscrimination laws; I also believe that a transformation of conscience and a genuine commitment to diversity on the part of the nation's CEOs could bring quicker results than a battalion of lawyers. I think we should put more of our tax dollars into educating poor girls and boys, and give them the information about contraception that can prevent unwanted pregnancies, lower abortion rates, and help ensure that every child is loved and cherished. But I also think faith can fortify a young woman's sense of self, a young man's sense of responsibility, and the sense of reverence all young people should have for the act of sexual intimacy.
  • ...nothing is more transparent than inauthentic expressions of faith.
  • They did so because they were outsiders; because their style of exuberant worship appealed to the lower-classes; because their evangelization of all comers - including slaves - threatened the established order; because they were no respecters of rank and privilege...
  • "It is error alone, that stands in need of government to support it; truth can and will do better without... it."
  • To say that men and women should not inject their "personal morality" into public-policy debates is a practical absurdity; our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
  • For those who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do, such rules of engagement may seem just one more example of the tyranny of the secular and material worlds over the sacred and eternal. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Almost by definition, faith and reason operate in different domains and involve different paths to discerning truth. Reason - and science - involves the accumulation of knowledge based on realities that we can apprehend. Religion, by contrast, is based on truths that are not provable through ordinary human understanding - the "belief in things not seen." When science teachers insist on keeping creationism or intelligent design out of their classrooms, they are not asserting that scientific knowledge is superior to religious insight. They are simply insisting that each path to knowledge involves different rules and that those rules are not interchangeable.
  • At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It insists on the impossible.

Chapter Seven

  • "We didn't have nothin' before the storm," she whispered,. "Now we got less than nothin'."
  • "There is not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America - there's the United States of America."
  • ... the bitter swill of swallowed-back anger.
  • Better isn't good enough.
  • ... a rising tide lifting minority boats.
  • "You know what the problem is with John? Whenever I hear him, he makes me feel more white."... white guilt has largely exhausted itself in America.
  • This concept of a black underclass - separate, apart, alien in its behavior and in its values - has also played a central role in modern American politics. It was partly on behalf of fixing the black ghetto that Johnson's War on Poverty was launched, and it was on the basis of that war's failures, both real and perceived, that conservatives turned much of the country against the very concept of the welfare state. A cottage industry grew within conservative think tanks, arguing not only that cultural pathologies - rather than racism or structural inequalities built into our economy - were responsible for black poverty but also that government programs like welfare, coupled with liberal judges who coddled criminals, actually made these pathologies worse. On television, images of innocent children with distended bellies were replaced with those of black looters and muggers; news reports focused less on the black maid struggling to make ends meet and more on the "welfare queen" who had babies just to collect a check. What was needed, conservatives  argued, was a stern dose of discipline - more police, more prisons, more personal responsibility, and an end to welfare. If such strategies could not transform the black ghettos, at least they would contain it and keep hardworking taxpayers from throwing good money after bad.
    That conservatives won over white public opinion should come as no surprise. Their arguments tapped into a distinction between the "deserving" and "undeserving" poor that has a long and varied history in America, an argument that has often been racially or ethnically tinged and that has gained greater currency during those periods - like the seventies and eighties - when economic times are tough. The response of Liberal policy makers and civil rights leaders didn't help; in their urgency to avoid blaming the victims of historical racism, they tended to downplay or ignore evidence that entrenched behavioral patterns among the black poor really were contributing to intergenerational poverty. (Most famously, Daniel Patrick Moynihan was accused of racism in the early sixties when he raised alarms about the rise of out-of-wedlock births among the black poor.) This willingness to dismiss the role that values played in shaping the economic success of a community strained credulity and alienated working-class whites - particularly since some of the most liberal policy makers lived lives far removed from urban disorder.
  • What you won't hear, though, are blacks using such terms as "predator" in describing a young gang member, or "underclass" in describing mothers on welfare - language that divides the world between those who are worthy of our concern and those who are not. For black Americans, such separation from the poor is never an option, and not just because the color of our skin - and the conclusions the larger society draws from our color - makes all of us as free, only as respected, as the least of us.
  • ... culture is shaped by circumstance.
  • ... conservatives - and Bill Clinton - were right about welfare as it was previously structured: By detaching income from work, and by making no demands on welfare recipients other than a tolerance for intrusive bureaucracy and an assurance that no man lived in the same house as the mother of his children, the old AFDC program sapped people of their initiative and eroded their self-respect. Any strategy to reduce intergenerational poverty has to be centered on work, not welfare - not only because work provides independence and income but also because work provides order, structure, dignity, and opportunities for growth in people's lives.
  • Some solutions (strategies): see pgs 304-05

Chapter Eight  

  • If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.
  • America's notion of what the international system should be - free trade, open markets, the unfettered flow of information, the rule of law, democratic elections, and the like - is simply an expression of American Imperialism, designed to exploit the cheap labor and natural resources of other countries and infect non-Western cultures with decadent beliefs. Rather than conform to America's rules, the argument goes, other countries should resist America's efforts to expand its hegemony; instead, they should follow their own path to development, taking their lead from left-leaning populists like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, or turning to more traditional principles of social organization, like Islamic law.
  • In almost every successful social movement in the last century, from Gandhi's campaign against British rule to the Solidarity movement in Poland to the antiapartheid movement in South Africa, democracy was the result of a local awakening.
  • But in fact countries like India, Nigeria, and China have developed two legal systems - one for foreigners and elites, and one for ordinary people trying to get ahead.

Chapter Nine

  • ... if I ever had to run against her for public office, she would beat me without much difficulty... "I don't have the patience," she says to people who ask. As is always the case, she is telling the truth.
  • Married couples continue to head 67 percent of American families...half of all first marriages still end in divorce... 33 percent of all children are born out of wedlock... 54 percent of all African American children live in single-parent households.... today's information economy demand more time in school.In the sixties and early seventies, the household Michelle grew up in was the norm - more than 70 percent of families had Mom at home and relied on Dad as the sole breadwinner... the "juggler family"... Americans today have 22 fewer hours a week to spend with their kids than they did in 1969. Millions of children are left in unlicensed day care every day - or at home alone with the TV as a babysitter. Employed mothers lose almost an hour of sleep a day in their attempt to make it all add up."... Over the last thirty years, the average earnings of American men have grown less than 1 percent after being adjusted for inflation... the average two-income family has less discretionary income- and is less financially secure - than its single-earner counterpart thirty years ago.
  • ... the United States is practically alone among Western nations in not providing government-subsidized, high-quality day-care services to all its workers.
  • We could start by making high-quality day care affordable for every family that needs it.
  • ... all other wealthy nations but one provide some form of paid parental leave.
  • Like many men today, I grew up without a father in the house.
  • I felt as well the mark that a father's absence can leave on a child.
  • ... fathers experience as they navigate an economy in flux and changing social norms... one doesn't have to be an economic determinist to believe that high unemployment and low wages contribute to the lack of parental involvement and low marriage rates among African American men.
  • But I suspect that the happiness she felt on that parachute registers permanently in her; that such moments accumulate and embed themselves in a child's character, becoming a part of their soul.


  • ... the need for government to help provide a foundation for opportunity.
  • It brought to mind a phrase that my pastor, Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., had once used in a sermon... The audacity of hope.
  • ... of how fleeting fame is, contingent as it is on a thousand different matters of chance, of events breaking this way rather than that.
  • ... both law and politics required compromise, he said; not just on issues, but on more fundamental things - your values and ideals.
  • "I would rather have it said, He lived usefully, than, He died rich."