Americans spend a lot of time in their politics talking about the issues that divide them even though they have many common interests, says Sen. Barack Obama, whose new book explores the problems he sees as inherent to national politics.

“My basic premise is, on issues of faith or race or foreign policy or the economy … if we start with recognizing what we have in common that, in fact, we can arrive at a politics that isn’t as partisan and a little more productive,” Obama, D-Ill., said in a recent interview.

An 18-page excerpt from his fall book, “The Audacity of Hope: Reclaiming the American Dream,” appeared Friday on his Web site,

Obama, 44, was elected to the Senate in 2004 and is its only black member. A popular speaker around the country, he is often mentioned as a future presidential candidate.

He traces the problems with Washington politics to, among other things, highly partisan elections, a news media focused on sound bites and noise, and a nation strongly divided on virtually all the major issues.

“I find it hard to shake the feeling these days that our democracy has gone seriously awry,” he writes. “What’s troubling is the gap between the magnitude of our challenges and the smallness of our politics _ the ease with which we are distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our seeming inability to build a working consensus to tackle any big problem.”

Using education as an example, Obama writes that it is clear the system needs to be changed from top to bottom, with more teachers, better teaching of math and science, and effective literacy programs. Yet, he adds, the debate is stuck between those who want to dismantle the public school system and those who would defend the indefensible status quo.

Obama’s book, scheduled for publication in October, is part of a three-book deal with Random House Inc., through its Crown Publishing Group and Random House Children’s Books divisions, worth $1.9 million.


Rep. John Murtha says he should have spoken out sooner.

For a year the Pennsylvania Democrat and Vietnam veteran agonized over his doubts about the Iraq war before deciding to break with the Bush administration and call for withdrawing U.S. troops.

“I probably did not speak out soon enough,” Murtha told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “I should have, but I was always so used to doing things behind the scenes and getting something done, getting a reaction from the executive branch.”

Murtha, 73, is to be awarded the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in Boston on Monday for his bold pronouncement last November that U.S. troops should be pulled out of Iraq. The Democratic hawk and retired Marines Reserves colonel surprised the administration and drew the ire of conservatives.

As the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee, Murtha was often called on by presidents for his advice. Attending early planning meetings with Pentagon officials, he thought they were too optimistic about how the Iraqi people would respond to an invasion.

“They quit inviting me to meetings,” he said. “I don’t get too many calls from the White House any more.”

Murtha said he’s content with his new role as an outsider because he feels he is helping to cause change. He received 18,000 phone calls, letters and other forms of communication in the first few days after he made his statement, the vast majority of them in support, he said.

If Democrats win a majority in the House in November, which Murtha predicts will happen, the Republican administration should be prepared to answer tough questions about the war, he said.

“It will be a stunning thing to them, and then the investigations will start,” Murtha said.


Associated Press writer Kimberly Hefling contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Associated Press