Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Making of a President

"Renegade" tells the whole amazing story, restating how unlikely it seemed, only two years ago, that President Obama would ever be identified as such. When the campaign started, he was 99th out of 100 senators in seniority. In 2000, he couldn't even gain admission to the Democratic convention, and his credit card was declined when he tried to rent a car in L.A. Wolffe explores all of the ups and downs of 2008, relaying anecdotes both new and familiar. There are not quite as many flashbulb revelations as I expected, beyond a horrifying glimpse into just how directionless the Bush White House was at the time of the economic collapse last fall and some provocative suggestions that the Obama marriage was in trouble around 2000, when his political ambitions were surfacing.
Judging by the reviews, like this one by Ted Widmer, this seems to be the best of the crop of books on how the White House was won.


  1. So just how directionless was the White House during the economic collapse last fall?

  2. I love Richard Wolffe and may actually read this one.

  3. My guess is the previous White House was clueless when it came to the economy -- and just about everything else that was crumbling down around them.

  4. I'm more curious about his marriage being on the verge of a breakup in 2000.

  5. Obama's? That's the first I've heard of that. Interesting. I am totally enamored of the Obama family and see Michelle as an incredible role model for all of us.

  6. There are apparently a lot of choice quotes from Michelle in regard to the campaign. She was apparently pretty upset with the direction of the campaign following the Texas and Ohio defeats. But, I think Obama and crew did a stellar job of even being in the race in Texas. Hillary had like a 20-point advantage before he took his campaign to the Lone Star State, famously drawing her line in the sand. As it turned out Obama came away with the larger share of delegates as a result of the caucuses. Anyway, it should be interesting reading.

  7. Interesting. This is one of those Costco books. I'm sure I'll see it there and pick it up.

    I had a friend at the theatre when the Obama's went on their date in NYC. All those sophisticated NY theatre goers were standing on their seats cheering. Can you imagine the Bushes trying to do that?

  8. Is a renegade like a maverick? I thought the Republicans had trade marked that one.

  9. From the Huffington Post (somehow I think these names are just right):

    The new First Family has been issued code names by the Secret Service. Barack Obama's is "Renegade," Michelle Obama's is "Renaissance," Malia Obama's is "Radiance," and Sasha Obama's is "Rosebud."

    Joe and Jill Biden also received code names, though it's tough to top "Renegade" and "Renaissance." Joe Biden's is "Celtic," and Jill Biden's is "Capri."

  10. OMG, their code names are public!?!? What's the point, then? Do they have to change them now?

    If the previous regime were still in power, the publisher of the code names could probably expect a knock on the door...

  11. No, the previous regime were known as Tumbler (or Trailblazer) and Cheney was Angler, which is the title of another book.

    I heard someone talk about this when the Obama names came out and apparently security is so different now that these names are not officially all that important anymore.

  12. Here you go, NY. Some of these are pretty good:

  13. I didn't see this thread until today. I bought Wolffe's book for kindle last week. Had to wait for the price to come down to 9.99 . . . they're getting into $14-15 intro price in that format. I haven't started it yet. I'm still reading H.W. Brands about FDR. I was reading some lighter things all of last week.

    I was going to pass on Wolffe's book, since I've read both of Obama's and have another book about him that is unread. Then I heard Wolffe's interview on WNYC with Leonard Lopate and changed my mind.

  14. Thanks for the update, Marti. I will definitely read it -- I really like Wolffe who is a regular commentator for Olbermann.

    Hope you'll join in with us about Lincoln.

  15. I'm in the book just beyond the loss of the New Hampshire primary. The reason I wasn't interested at first was that I didn't want to read a rehash of the campaign. However, I'd heard that he revealed some things that we didn't know about. I think that Wolffe may have covered them in his promotional interviews. I don't want to prejudge though.

    One thing I just don't like is when I hear TV journalists (or print journalists who are on TV) say "the Clintons" for Hillary Clinton's campaign. Wolffe does this. I think it's really an unpro, biased way of describing Hillary Clinton's run for president. They don't say that HRC had to run against "the Edwardses" or "the Obamas." You'd think that she was the only candidate with a spouse behind her. Duh. Even in 2009, I hear this when pundits discuss anything to do with HRC with Charlie Rose or Keith Olbermann, for examples. As I write this I visualize Howard Fineman of Newsweek talking to CR or KO.

    It's also a little strange reading about the renegade preaching the new politics and how we can change things, in light of President Obama's holding back on change. I'm all for him and what he campaigned for. Now let's see it take place. Let's get out of Iraq, let's change the military "don't ask, don't tell", etc.

  16. I think what ultimately sunk Hillary was her inability to distance herself from Bill. She allowed him too big a role in her campaign. At times it did appear as though Obama was campaigning against the Clintons, as Bill would often take the first person in some of his stump speeches, making it sound like we would end up with co-presidency if Hillary was elected.

    With Obama pushing through a huge stimulus bill, continuing to push hard on a health care bill and with a timetable set for Iraq, I would think he has carried through on many of the promises he made during his campaign.

  17. I heard Chuck Todd the other night make this point -- Obama is steering clear from all social issues for the time being. Todd believes that's Emanuel's advice based on the experiences of the Clintons -- and in that case it was a plural, since she was responsible for the health care initiative.

    What bothered me more during the campaign was that she was "Hillary" but McCain was McCain. Interestingly, a lot of news people also called Obama "Barack" during the campaign. And then there was Bill Bennett who called him Barack HUSSEIN Obama [emphasis his] on CNN -- at which point I switched to msnbc.

    I was a strong Edwards supporter and was sad to see him totally deconstruct. I think he was on top of all the issues -- he just didn't have the personal where-with-all to be president (although I think his wife did). Clinton was way too hawkish for me.

    Which is why I think Obama is so much like Lincoln. He really knows how to build an unlikely coalition and keep it together. Heck, he even got me working the streets on his behalf! I registered 100 new voters. And we almost carried Montana -- it was too close to call the first night.

    I haven't seen Wolffe's book yet, but will pick it up when I do.

  18. The stimulus package was good, but we need more to get people back to work. The last thing that will come back in the economy will be jobs.

    As a senator, Obama was as "hawkish" as H. Clinton. That whole issue was a sham, since he was not senator when most of them gave Bush the power to pursue the war. After Obama became senator, he did as much as the others to continue to fund the war. Now, when are we getting out of Iraq? And Afghanistan wasn't really an issue during the campaign.

    I was for Edwards towards the end of 2007. Voted for HRC in the NY Dem. primary. Turns out as I'd figured then that there is very little difference between Obama and Clinton. Their differences were in their personalities.

  19. Marti, I think there's something to be said for that. Reading Goodwin, it's clear sometimes it's all in the personality if you want to get anything done. Clinton was a great Senator if you don't mind someone who doesn't read the intelligence -- but she and her husband are polarizing figures, there's no getting around it.

    Obama came out against the invasion of Iraq at the time -- but he got stuck in that same "support the troops" trap the republicans set for all the democrats. You are either for us or against us. Hopefully we can get past all that now.

    That said, I'm with you. While it looks like he's still committed to ending the occupation of Iraq -- it's getting there! -- he's driving us deeper into what Pete Seeger called the Big Muddy in Afghanistan.

    Plus I hate to see these social issues marginalized when they are so easy to fix -- particularly the loss of gay service personnel. All he needs to say is we need their service and they will stay until we can looking into the law or something like that. It's ironic how they are treating gay marriage given our reading of ToR -- leave it to the states. Where have we heard that before? Pure politics as far as I can tell.

    And while the bankers seem to be doing just fine, thanks very much to the bailout, the universities that I work with are having a horrendous time. I have a friend at Cornell who was offered early retirement, along with many other administrators, just so they could trim their budgets. I have another friend who teaches for the University of California and she expects them to start cutting wages. Both campuses already have a hiring freeze, as I think they do here in the departments.

  20. "And then there was Bill Bennett who called him Barack HUSSEIN Obama [emphasis his] on CNN -- at which point I switched to msnbc.

    This reminds me of one of my favorite things during the campaign: my daughter & many of her friends listed their names on Facebook with Hussein as a middle name--LOVED it.

  21. I liked Obama from the get-go, because I felt he was someone who could accomplish great things. Hillary is too much of a wonk. She gets so caught up in her issues that she loses sight of the larger strategy. Her campaign was a perfect example of this. I think this was also the case with Bill.

    Iraq has been dragging since the Persian Gulf War in 1991. There is no way to pull out overnight, and so Obama has put into place a pullout that will stretch through 2010, with the aim to close down the bases in 2011, which the Republicans had hoped to make permanent. Obama is encountering a lot of resistance, but so far I think has been up to the task.

    I'm surprised Gitmo is proving so thorny, but here again Obama took a stand and is sticking with him with detainees being released on a weekly basis and plans remain to have the detention camp closed down by the end of the year.

    I really don't know what more anyone can expect from him at this point. He has put forward huge stimulus programs, he continues to move full ahead on the health care initiative, lining up support for what will be a big battle in Congress. He has properly addressed the situation in Iraq. I'm not so confident of the build-up in Afghanistan. Not sure why we need to stay in there other than to appease the "hawks." But, all in all, I think he has done a great job as president in his first six months.

    Obama's biggest strength, I think, is that he knows when and where to pick his battles, and makes sure he has the support before waging them.

  22. "And then there was Bill Bennett who called him Barack HUSSEIN Obama [emphasis his] on CNN -- at which point I switched to msnbc.

    The most amazing part to me was how Obama was able to overcome all these name associations. I think what made Barack special is that he didn't run away from his past or back down when cornered on an issue. At each critical juncture of the campaign he came up with a crucial speech that further gained the public's confidence in him.

    Like Lincoln, Obama is someone who carefully measures his words, and very wisely doesn't take the bait of his political opponents.

  23. Yes, as I read more about Lincoln, the more I see Obama. Very astute political men (and I mean that in a positive light-- that's how things get done in Washington).

    I'm amazed by how much he has accomplished -- but of course as part of "the base," I want more. Actually, I don't consider myself a Democrat but I work round the clock for them when they ever get a good candidate.

    I'm thrilled that Obama and his family are in the White House. For the first time in my life, to paraphrase Michelle, I feel really good about my country. So I'm cheering them both on (with only a few letters of protest along the way....).

  24. Hurray to your daughter, NY!

    During the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, my daughter organized a protest of her fellow students during some sort of national action. I think 20 kids or so turned out -- in a blizzard! I was so proud of those kids. I brought down a big thermos of hot chocolate but another woman saw them out there and bought them a gift card from the local coffee shop so they could take a break inside.

    At times like these it feels like we're leaving the country in good hands.