Saturday, November 20, 2010

One more.... and then I'll quit!


I started this book in the a.m. and haven't been able to put it down. I read Alter's book on FDR, and wasn't at all impressed. But then I read that after we all read Schlesinger and he's a tough act to follow.

Alter's not a historian but rather a reporter, so he sees this book as the second draft of history -- enough removed to consider it "history," but still relying on his reporting skills to get the story down.

It's tough reading about how amazingly smart and capable this new administration is (or at least was starting out), knowing what we know now.

23 comments:

  1. Robert, look forward to your thoughts. I read about half of the book today. I'm going to keep after it tonight. I'm a bit of a political junkie, so find this stuff fascinating. And unlike the Woodward book, this one is very well written so far.

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  2. Marti, I know you read a lot of these contemporary presidential "histories." If you haven't already, I highly recommend this one. I only wish it went further into his presidency because the darkest days for the administration are ahead of him as the book ends (i.e., the 2010 elections).

    There's nothing particularly "new" in the telling -- although I'm sure a lot of the reporting comes from Alter and a few of the others doing similar work at the time -- but it still gives you an amazing insight into what was accomplished during that first plus year, and how bad things really were. And it's very well written and organized.

    One anecdote I hadn't read before was that Paulson was on his knees begging the Democrats to do something after that big "economics" meeting with Bush (whom one Republican quipped was already in Crawford) and the Republicans were dismissive of doing anything at all. Everywhere they looked, it appeared the world was left in shambles by the previous administration. Talk about having been left a mess to clean up!

    And yet, Alter never overly emphasizes Bush's clear incompetence, which makes it easier (for me) to read.

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  3. I have enjoyed the interviews that Alter did whe the book came out, and with your recommendation, I may read it.

    Richard Wolffe has a second book about Obama that was just published. I heard an interview with him about it on WNYC (it was either Brian Lehrer or Leonard Lopate -- I listen to podcasts from both shows). (Revival: The Struggle for Survival Inside the Obama White House)

    http://www.amazon.com/Revival-Struggle-Survival-Inside-Obama/dp/0307717410/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1290499064&sr=1-1

    (I won't be buying this one any time soon while the Kindle price is $14.30.)

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  4. Alter's is one of the first of the more contemporary histories like this that I've read, so not sure how to compare it. But I found it fascinating and well written. There may not be any huge revelations -- other than Obama was the only one in the administration committed to health care reform against everyone's advice -- but like Game Change, it gives you a really good insider's picture of what life is like in the Obama White House, and who's who. (Woodward's gives what I'm sure is an accurate picture as well, but it seemed rushed and sloppy to me)

    I really like Richard Wolffe and tried to get a copy of his first book, thinking I was getting a cheap, new remaindered copy (it said "new" at Amazon). It was probably unread, but it had been inscribed to someone as a gift, and so I sent it back. After reading Alter, I still want to read Wolffe's first book. I've only seen this review of his second one, but it doesn't sound as good (although might be worth it as a follow-up to the first):

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/15/AR2010111507571.html

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  5. I have to wonder what a book on Year Two would yield, as it seems that "Promise" no longer carries with it much resonance. Forcing a freeze on federal salaries isn't going to sit well with the rank and file, and seems little more than a ploy to stave off Republican criticisms. Now it is revealed that many businesses got an easing of environmental regulations along with their stimulus money. Seems that in an effort to revive the economy, the Obama administration pulled a "Clinton" here.

    More and more it appears that Obama chooses expediency over principle and this is very discouraging. Granted, a President has to have the ability to bend policy, but I hope he doesn't go down the same road as Clinton who bent over backward on virtually every policy as long as it kept him in office, and had a very mediocre environmental record at best.

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  6. Major fallout from Obama's decision to go along with the tax cuts in full. Granted, he didn't have the votes in the Senate to carry through the House tax cut bill, but I think this was definitely a case where he should have taken the issue to the people, given less than the 30% support the Bush tax cuts. Yet one more ugly legacy Obama has saddled himself with.

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  7. Funny, I was just wondering when we might get a look into Year 2. I'm standing by....

    I think the job has gotten ahead of him politically (I'm sure he's done more internally than we'll ever know), and he's losing the support of too many of us who could be out there making a difference.

    I'm on an action mailing list because of all I did during the election, but the last email I received was for calling in support of don't ask/don't tell. I am a big supporter of repeal of that policy, but remember receiving their email (this was a couple weeks ago) and thinking WHAT.... not calling on taxes. They'd totally given up on that one already.

    I think Obama looks at the scorecard and says we got 3 out of 5. Onto the next one. Add 3 to our side.

    Alas, I think he was our last best hope as a president, but I don't think it's in his nature to rise to what we see as the occasion.

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  8. And then, as Marti notes, the 99 weekers are being cut off entirely from any support. Given sheer demographics alone, that means that people at 50 and 60 are going to be set adrift probably for the rest of their lives.

    Joe Biden apparently brokered this deal with Mitch McConnell, whose only interest is protecting the richest of the rich. I'm hoping for a stand off in Congress. Sounds like some are up for the challenge, and are turning on Obama. The party is going to implode alas. I may not like everything the Democrats stand for, but they are the only game in town.

    I always come back to wondering how it could have gotten worse after GW, but here we are....

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  10. But whom do you blame more? Our elected representatives or the American electorate?

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  11. Both of course. And if the Republicans get their way, and we keep cutting back as a nation on education and economic opportunities for the non-elite, it's only going to get worse.

    Is that your question?

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  12. The disconnect is that the public suppposedly is against tax cuts for the rich, but here are the Republicans acting as though they have a "mandate" to continue the Bush tax cuts. Obama should have gone on television before the "compromise," not after it, and appealled to these people to shame their senators to vote for the House tax cut bill.

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  13. Well, actually, I asked whom do you blame more. I think voters, and mainly the so-called independents, once again allowed themselves to be manipulated by the Republican Noise Machine. How many times must this happen before they learn that the Republicans are always playing them for fools?

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  14. Rachel Maddow did a pretty amazing job of parsing the so-called concessions to the Republicans, like the cuts in the payroll tax and the child tax credits, most of which the republicans support.

    There didn't seem to be a whole lot of give in their take except extending unemployment benefits for those who haven't been out of work (yet) for two years, something I know the republicans hate to do, assuming that there are still plenty of jobs at Walmart to go around.

    I would have rather seen them take that money instead and created jobs, with preferences for the unemployed, like they do with military preferences. Then they could have tried again to get just middle class tax cuts restored next year.

    But I could have lived with them all expiring. Tax cuts shouldn't be on the table when we need all the money the government can get right now to keep the economy limping along. I'd rather see more tax credits for those having a hard time.

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  15. According to most estimates I've seen, by the way, independents shifted right by about 36 percentage points when you compare the 2006 and 2010 mid-term elections. That is amazing if you ask me.

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  16. Bernie Sanders said his offices received 2,000 calls today. Contact your Senators. It's worth a try!

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  17. What makes the matter worse is that Obama put the Democrats in a no-win situation. I suppose this was a lack of faith in Reid being able to drum up the votes to carry the House tax cut bill in the Senate, which is understandable given how badly he flubbed the health care bill, but Obama should have discussed this with Democrats first. Instead, he makes it appear he reached a backroom deal with the Republicans and is now trying to shove it down the throats of the Democrats. Classic Clintonian move. I expected much more from Obama.

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  18. Obama has handled this tax cut so badly, it really hurts to think about it. He has sucked all the spirit out of his 2008 campaign, and looks ridiculous in his efforts to strongarm the Dems into accepting the Bush tax cuts, something Congressional Dems fought against for 8 long years. I think it is as Robert Reich said, Obama has to get new advisors. Axelrod and company seem to be thinking only about how to maintain some grip over "independent" voters, figuring the liberal Democrats have no where to turn. Playing this one purely by the numbers. Ugly!

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  20. I remember reading that Henry Adams tried to create a "Third Way," or "Third Stream," of voters who would align themselves behind one or the other party depending on which better represented their views in any one election. I suppose this might the "ideological" origins of the "independents" we see today.

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  21. I think Obama has successfully boxed everyone in with this. Appears to be the only thing they may be able to tweak is the estate tax -- like crumbs to a starving populace. But the Democrats in the Senate really have no one to blame but themselves. They fiddled for the last two years while Rome burned.

    Even so, Jim Demint says he's not going to vote for it because it adds to the deficit -- be interesting to see how this all shakes out. Can't imagine though that the Democrats will go home for the holidays without securing unemployment insurance for folks. That might be more than even the most jaded politician could get away with.

    No, wait.... that was the Republican plan.

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  22. I agree, Rick. It is more like a cynic's way out.

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