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.