A Promised Land

by Barack Obama

Start Free Trial

Chapters 5–9 Summary and Analysis

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on January 20, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1420

Chapter 5

Early in his campaign, Obama felt exhausted and frustrated with the demands of running for president. He dealt with this by relying on his team. With Axe’s help, he improved his public speaking skills. His campaign manager, David Plouffe, pursued an aggressive digital marketing strategy and tapped into a grassroots donor base. Obama’s team in Iowa was youthful and passionate. They built a sense of family that pervaded his whole campaign. Through their hard work, they got the word out in Iowa, and many voters became excited about Obama. 

As his poll numbers went up, Hillary Clinton’s campaign became more concerned about him, resulting in a confrontation in which she criticized him for his campaign surrogates’ aggressive tactics. He felt he had made positive politics a priority and believed she was incorrect about those who worked for him, but he tried to empathize with her and remind himself how difficult her position must be. Obama continued to rise in the polls. As the Iowa caucuses approached, the Obamas’ family members, old friends, classmates, and colleagues flooded into the state to advocate for Obama. Many people told him that his campaign had inspired them to caucus for the first time. Obama saw the community he had dreamed of forming before him. He won the Iowa caucuses with an 8-point lead over Clinton.

Chapter 6

Obama was the front-runner after Iowa but lost ground due to a gaffe. In a debate, he said Hillary was “likable enough,” a failed joke. Whether because of that incident or New Hampshire voters’ preference for underdogs, Obama lost New Hampshire. The loss unified his campaign, increasing their determination. In his narration, Obama explores his own tendency to thrive under pressure, inherited from his grandmother Madelyn “Toot” Dunham. 

As the campaign moved on to South Carolina, racial issues forced themselves on Obama’s attention. Although Obama wanted to help people of color, his campaign strategy was to unify voters of all backgrounds in order to win and then pursue racial progress as president. However, the campaign could not avoid some difficult racial moments. Obama had to distance himself from Jeremiah Wright, his controversial Chicago pastor, who often criticized America for its treatment of Black people. While some key Black leaders gave Obama their support, many Black Americans expressed concerns that Obama could not win. Former President Bill Clinton, campaigning for his wife Hillary in South Carolina, made comments that some interpreted as veiled expressions of racism. 

Obama describes himself as fighting “the weight of the past,” wrangling with the fears, expectations, and assumptions that the nation’s racial history brought to a Black man’s campaign to become president. In the end, Obama won South Carolina decisively, gaining voters across racial lines. However, he could not forget that, contrary to the crowd’s “race doesn’t matter” chants at his South Carolina victory rally, racial issues remain central to the American experience.

Chapter 7

Obama reflects on how race affected public perception of him and his family. Throughout his life, he had always felt fully American, but running for president showed him that some Americans did not consider him to be one. Michelle was subject to even more criticism. The Secret Service was called in earlier than usual due to death threats against the Obamas. Obama grew lonely as the campaign expanded into a more official operation. He became concerned about disappointing his supporters, realizing he had become an imagined vehicle for their hopes rather than an actual person they viewed accurately. 

By focusing on caucus states, Obama acquired a commanding lead. Yet Clinton would not give up, continuing to...

(This entire section contains 1420 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

contest the nomination. Meanwhile, Obama was forced to cut ties with Reverend Wright altogether, due to a televised rant in which Wright condemned the United States. Obama gave a speech directly confronting the issue of race in America, which was met with public approval. However, he then made what he calls “my biggest mistake of the campaign,” describing working-class Republican voters as “cling[ing] to guns and religion,” a statement which permanently damaged his relationship with the working class. This incident did not sink the campaign, however. Going against Clinton and McCain about his strategy to address rising gas prices boosted Obama’s reputation for being honest with voters, which helped carry him through the remaining primaries. He won the nomination.

Chapter 8

After receiving the nomination, Obama sought to unify the Democratic Party, beginning with inviting Hillary Clinton to join his administration. To show voters that he was ready to represent America on the world stage, he went on a foreign policy tour of the Middle East and Europe. He spoke with Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq’s Prime Minister, who agreed with Obama that the US should withdraw from Iraq, and with General David Petraeus, commander of forces in Iraq, who did not. After the tour, he vacationed with his family, reflecting on how much time with them he had missed. 

For his running mate, Obama chose Joe Biden, because he believed that Biden was trustworthy, caring, and a good communicator. John McCain chose Sarah Palin, who excited white working-class voters by connecting with their feelings of exclusion and distrust of the political establishment. She had limited political experience, however, and Obama observed that many Republicans who had questioned his own lack of experience were advocating for Palin. He characterizes these events as indicating a growing partisanship that would cause problems for America in the future.

Chapter 9

Obama introduces the housing crisis that created the 2008 recession by telling the story of the condo the Obamas purchased as their first home. He explains how risky practices in mortgage lending caused a devastating economic crash. As the crisis worsened, Congress and the Bush administration struggled to pass a bill authorizing the use of government funds to prevent more financial institutions from collapsing. McCain requested that President Bush call a meeting with him, Obama, and congressional leaders to address the crisis. The meeting failed, making McCain look incompetent. Obama felt confident in their first debate because he truly believed that he would be the better president McCain. 

Obama was indeed successful in the first debate, at which point Republicans shifted their focus to rumors that Obama was a socialist. Sarah Palin in particular promoted this idea, while McCain tried to rein it in. Obama wonders whether McCain would have chosen his running mate differently in retrospect, given that Palin “would provide a template for future politicians” to move the Republican Party in a direction McCain would condemn. As election day neared, Obama’s mood was somber. He feared he could not improve the economy fast enough to live up to his supporters’ expectations. Toot, his grandmother, was on her deathbed. He went to Hawaii to say goodbye and made a tribute to her at the end of his final campaign speech. Obama won the election. Looking back, he wonders whether he remembers these events as they really were or as photographs and other public representations shaped them.


Part 2 of A Promised Land, “Yes We Can,” shows Obama coming to understand the weight of the presidency as he grows closer to winning it. Touring the Middle East clarified the extent of the military challenges facing the United States at that time, and Obama’s close involvement in addressing the economic crisis taught him the severity of the most urgent issue he would face in his first term. Aware that voters had imagined an ideal Obama, he feared he would be unable to live up to their expectations as he dealt with the real demands of the office.

This section also engages deeply with race and racism. Racial anger caused problems for Obama on both sides. Racist whites treated the Obamas as inferior and even un-American. Reverend Wright’s words, expressions of anger against an America that oppressed Black people, stoked racial fears, forcing Obama to break with him. Obama did not seek to make race a central issue of his campaign, but he could not avoid it.

Obama also meditates on recent changes in the Republican Party, exemplified by the political rise of Sarah Palin, and how they have intensified since that time. Without mentioning his presidential successor’s name, he expresses concern about the party’s rightward swing and its adoption of a politics of exclusion. This thread pervades the book, as Obama grapples with what it means for the country to have chosen a successor to Obama whose policies and values are so opposed to his own.


Chapters 1–4 Summary and Analysis


Chapters 10–13 Summary and Analysis