A Promised Land by Barack Obama is extraordinarily intimate and introspective—the story of one man’s bet with history, the faith of a community organizer tested on the world stage.
Obama is candid about the balancing act of running for office as a Black American, bearing the expectations of a generation buoyed by messages of “hope and change,” and meeting the moral challenges of high-stakes decision-making.
This beautifully written and powerful book captures Barack Obama’s conviction that democracy is not a gift from on high but something founded on empathy and common understanding and built together, day by day.
Scroll down to read 30 Quotes from A Promised Land by Barack Obama.
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30 Quotes from A Promised Land by Barack Obama
There is not a Black America and a white America and a Latino America and an Asian America. There’s the United States of America.
If I remain hopeful, it’s because I’ve learned to place my faith in my fellow citizens, especially those of the next generation.
Enthusiasm makes up for a host of deficiencies.
The truth is, I’ve never been a big believer in destiny. I worry that it encourages resignation in the down-and-out and complacency among the powerful. I suspect that God’s plan, whatever it is, works on a scale too large to admit our mortal tribulations; that in a single lifetime, accidents and happenstance determine more than we care to admit.
The best we can do is to try to align ourselves with what we feel is right and construct some meaning out of our confusion, and with grace and nerve play at each moment the hand that we’re dealt.
The fear came from the realization that I could win.
In a democracy, you needed a majority to make big change, and in America that meant building coalitions across racial and ethnic lines.
Nothing in Black people’s experience told them that it might be possible for one of their own to win a major party nomination, much less the presidency of the United States. In the minds of many, what Michelle and I had accomplished was already something of a miracle. To aspire beyond that seemed foolish, a flight too close to the sun.
I wanted to prove to Blacks, to whites—to Americans of all colors—that we could transcend the old logic, that we could rally a working majority around a progressive agenda, that we could place issues like inequality or lack of educational opportunity at the very center of the national debate and then actually deliver the goods.
You could build power not by putting others down but by lifting them up.
For it turned out there was no single way to be Black; just trying to be a good man was enough.
I experienced failure and learned to buck up so I could rally those who’d put their trust in me. I suffered rejections and insults often enough to stop fearing them. In other words, I grew up—and got my sense of humor back.
If I wanted to be president, I told myself, I needed to act like one.
Another time. Another life. Modest and without consequence to the rest of the world. But one that had given me love.
I would never fully rid myself of the sense of reverence I felt whenever I walked into the Oval Office, the feeling that I had entered not an office but a sanctum of democracy. Day after day, its light comforted and fortified me, reminding me of the privilege of my burdens and my duties.
I closed my eyes and summoned the prayer that had carried me here, one I would continue to repeat every night I was president. A prayer of thanks for all I’d been given. A prayer that my sins be forgiven. A prayer that my family and the American people be kept safe from harm. A prayer for guidance.
No matter what you might tell yourself, no matter how much you’ve read or how many briefings you’ve received, or how many veterans of previous administrations you’ve recruited, nothing entirely prepares you for those first weeks in the White House.
Suck it up, I told myself. Tighten your laces. Cut your rations. Keep moving.
I hadn’t run simply to fan anger and allocate blame. I had run to rebuild the American people’s trust—not just in the government but in one another.
Confidence is hard to convey if you don’t fully feel it.
The best we could do now was hunker down, execute, and hope that our damn plan actually worked.
What I was quickly discovering about the presidency was that no problem that landed on my desk, foreign or domestic, had a clean, 100 percent solution. If it had, someone else down the chain of command would have solved it already. Instead, I was constantly dealing with probabilities.
Sometimes it didn’t matter how good your process was. Sometimes you were just screwed, and the best you could do was have a stiff drink—and light up a cigarette.
But even the best organizations can’t anticipate everything, in which case you learn to improvise to meet your objectives—or at least to cut your losses.
Sometimes your most important work involved the stuff nobody noticed.
Whatever you do won’t be enough, I heard their voices say. Try anyway.
I believed that America’s security depended on strengthening our alliances and international institutions. I saw military action as a tool of last, not first, resort.
Turns out avoiding a war is harder than getting into one.
Our history has always been the sum total of the choices made and the actions taken by each individual man and woman. It has always been up to us.
To be known. To be heard. To have one’s unique identity recognized and seen as worthy. It was a universal human desire, I thought, as true for nations and peoples as it was for individuals.
Which quote from A Promised Land by Barack Obama is your favorite?