“Our democracy,” Barack Obama writes in the first pages of his third autobiography, A Promised Land, “seems to be teetering on the brink of crisis—a crisis rooted in a fundamental contest between two opposing visions of what America is and what it should be.” One vision “appeal[s] to what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature.” It sees “a hopeful, generous, courageous America, an America that was open to everyone.” The other vision is as base as this one is noble. At its core is anger, fear, nativism, and racism.

These two visions, not surprisingly, align with our political divisions. On the side of the angels stand Obama, Democrats, and the millions of voters in 2008 who made the first-term U.S. senator his party’s nominee for the presidency and then elevated him to the nation’s highest office. On the other side stand Republicans (leaders and followers), Fox News, talk radio, and the Koch brothers. Despite his vows “to move past the tired Washington partisan divide,” “to change Washington and transcend partisan gridlock,” and “to end constant partisan rancor,” Obama’s aim throughout this 700-page first installment of his presidential memoirs appears to be nothing less than to delegitimize Republican and conservative opposition to a vast and growing welfare state.

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