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Jonathan Alter’s insider take on Obama’s glorious first year.
(Page 2 of 2)
ALTER IS TOO CLOSE to his sources and too sympathetic to the party line. Nevertheless, there are good things here. There’s a chapter titled “Larry and Tim,” with sketches of Tim Geithner and Larry Summers (“In the early days, Geithner often looked like a piñata,” and “On good days Summers was nearly as brilliant as he thought he was.”); a description of a shouting match about sexism between Summers and Christina Romer, who gave better than she got; references to an ongoing feud between White House economists and columnist Paul Krugman; the First Lady of France (where else?) wanting to talk to an obviously embarrassed Michelle Obama about sex; Obama having to break up a potential fistfight between Henry Paulson and Barney Frank (and who would you root for in that one?).
But Alter’s primary purpose, he tells us, is to answer three questions: What happened during the administration’s first year in office? What’s the president like? How well did he do? To a great extent, the first and last questions are answered by one phrase: health care. Against the advice of his top advisers, Alter tells us (“I begged him not to do this,” said Rahm Emanuel), Obama pressed on, devoting most of a legislative year to the passage of an extraordinarily complex bill that no one has read (not even Nancy Pelosi, who gets paid to read such things), full of contradictory and unenforceable provisions, and doing nothing at all to reduce the cost of health care.
Because the health care struggle consumed so much time and was covered to exhaustion by the national media, there’s nothing at all new for Alter, who gives it a great deal of space, to add to the story. As for other accomplishments, Alter gives us a list that reads very much like a White House communications office info dump and an end-of-year set of talking points. And what does Alter think the president is like? Three chapter headings pretty much tell the story: “Obama Takes Charge,” “Zen Temperament,” and “Professor-in-Chief.”
As the headings indicate, there’s little beyond the stylized and trite here, but that’s understandable. As a Newsweek editor, under the direction of Jon Meacham, Alter has necessarily been involved in creating the Obama image. In fact, it may be because of Meacham’s excessive Obama worship — the president has graced a record number of Newsweek covers, along with contributions to the magazine from the idealized Obama family (no doubt happily shaped by Newsweek staffers working with White House ghosts) — that Newsweek, once a good weekly news magazine, albeit excessively liberal and suffering from Luce envy, has been kicked out of the nest by the Washington Post and may soon fold, for reasons ably enumerated in TAS by Jeffrey Lord.
But don’t cry for Jonathan Alter and Jon Meacham. As Patrick Gavin writes in Politico, Meacham “has the great fortune of being part of an elite club of journalists who take care of their own.” He quotes Peter Mirijanian, a Washington crisis communications expert: “Within the fraternity and sorority that is the journalist corridor between New York and Washington, I think he’s fine…” And so is Alter. After Game Change and The Bridge, his Promise is third in a series of at least three more Obama books this year by that “elite club” of journalist/writers, topping off with Bob Woodward, who creates great fictional characters and will find at least one Deep Throat in the administration, unnamed of course, to pass him secrets in an unlit parking garage.
The story will change, the plot thicken, and Alter will be kept in book contracts for a few more years — at least up through Year Four — thus continuing to ensure him a place beside Jon Meacham at Charley Rose’s table.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?