The online journal of Luke Dockery

Book Review: Reclaiming Hope

Over the summer, I read Michael Wear’s Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House about the Future of Faith in America. Wear directed faith outreach for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign and was one of the youngest White House staffers in modern American history. In addition to that, he is a pro-life, evangelical Christian.

In some ways, Wear is representative of a lot of young evangelicals who, though not traditionally supporters of the Democratic party, found Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign very appealing with its emphasis on hope, change, and bipartisan cooperation.

I never voted for President Obama and have written before of profound disagreements I have with him. Having said that, I have respected his devotion to his family and the way that he conducted himself while in office, and I was interested in hearing an insider’s take on the Obama presidency (and especially from an insider who operates from a belief system at least somewhat similar to my own).

In many ways, Reclaiming Hope is a memoir of Wear’s time of service for President Obama. Wear clearly has deep admiration for Obama, and this shines through so clearly that, after the first few chapters, I was afraid the whole book was going to be nothing more than an extended argument for how great Obama was.

But it wasn’t that. After beginning by emphasizing policies and accomplishments of the Obama administration of which Wear was very proud, he reflects on the things he found to be very frustrating. These frustrations include the change in tone of the Democratic party that he witnessed between 2008-2012, his cynicism over Obama’s change in policy regarding gay marriage, and ultimately, what he regarded as the great failure of Obama’s presidency: rather than bringing about  change in Washington and bipartisan cooperation, it only furthered the partisan divide that plagues our nation.

Wear concludes the book on a high note, strongly emphasizing that, from a Christian perspective, hope is not to be found in any political system or figure but in the working of a God who wants justice in His world. 

Here are a few good quotations:

“Politics is causing great spiritual harm and a big reason for that is people are going to politics to have their inner needs met. Politics does a poor job of meeting inner needs, but politicians will suggest they can do so if it will get them votes.” (xxix)

“In 2009, our diversity demanded we accept that there will be voices we disagree with in public spaces. In 2013, diversity required us to dispel dissent. In 2009, we had true pluralism and the big American tent. In 2012, at the Democratic convention, we had a pretense of including and magnanimity for political gain. In 2013, with our last four years in hand and the “weight of history on our side” that pretense went out the window. Now the Democratic Party was about consolidation.” (188)

“When our little hopes are disappointed, we find ourselves situated between the harshness of despair and the daunting, unusual existence of real hope.” (192)

“The arc of the moral universe does not bend toward justice because of a political program or the unassailable motives of humans, but because of a God who wills justice.” (197)

“There is indeed an arc to the moral universe, but it is not a matter of humanity progressing toward justice; rather, it is the God of justice who is moving toward us.” (197)

“People who place their hope in politics are idealists who then become cynics.” (205)

Somewhat startling to me considering Wear’s narrative throughout the book (and his own political disillusionment that he describes) was his chastisement toward Americans who feel represented by neither party and thus, become independents. Wear argues that being an independent is to “check out of the system” and forfeits one’s ability to be an influence (210-211).  I reject this notion, however: supporting a party that does not represent your values in hopes that that party will influence the system according to your values is logically absurd, and speaking for myself, I expect my future political involvement to remain somewhat tepid.

Regardless, I enjoyed Wear’s book: it gave me a look behind the scenes of an historical presidency, helped me to see other perspectives, and provided a strong reminder that all people of faith need to hear: the hope for our world lies not in politics, but in the God who created all things and holds all things together.

3 Comments

  1. Paul Smith

    Hmmm. I’ve always wondered how someone could put their convictions about the sanctity of life aside and actively support (not just acquiesce to) the administration of Obama. Kind of sounds like he wants his cake and eat it too – if he suggests that Americans must support either the Democrat or Republican party.

    One of my huge annoyances with the current disgust with Trump is that most of the people who dislike Trump are oblivious to the division and rancor engendered by Obama. It’s almost like they think Trump created all of this, when in fact this progression of tit-for-tat started many moons ago, at the very least with Clinton, and you might even argue as far back as Reagan.

    Oh, well, it does sound like this author’s eyes were opened at least somewhat during his eight years in the White House. Maybe there is hope for us after all (pun intended).

    • Luke

      Paul,

      Thanks for the comment!

      Wear does talk about the abortion issue some. He is opposed to abortion, but applauds the reduction in number of abortions that occurred under the Obama administration. At the same time, he talks about distasteful (or, disgusting) comments and attitudes exhibited toward abortion during the 2012 Democratic Convention, and this is part of what led to him stepping down (see next paragraph).

      I didn’t say all this in the post, but Wear basically had a more minor role in the 2008 campaign, and worked his way up. He was a fairly important figure in the 2012 campaign, but the tenor of that campaign and the entire Democratic party was (in his eyes) so much different and worse that he resigned right after the inauguration. So yes, I think his eyes were opened somewhat.

      Re: Trump, yes, he didn’t just appear out of nowhere. It was exactly the political climate developed by the previous 8 years (which was made possible by the 8 years before that, etc.) that made it possible for Trump to win the presidency. But I think you can recognize that and still feel disgust for much of his antics.

      I think the author says some good things in acknowledging that our hope shouldn’t lie in political power, parties, and figures. But at the same time, I do think that he believes that participation in the system is a key way that Christians are to act as salt and light in the world. Increasingly, I am just not convinced of this at all.

      • Paul Smith

        I never want to be confused with a Trump supporter. There is nothing he has done that I particularly like. I think he is childish at the best…but I also thought the same of Obama. Washington is full of toddlers imo.

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