Insider books have tuned in readers to expletive-filled explosions by White House aspirants and occupants, but President Barack Obama's adviser David Axelrod "always knows who he's getting when he goes into the Oval Office," in the words of author David Remnick.Howie P.S.: This is the best review of Remnick's book that I have seen.
"Famously, with Bill Clinton, it was one weather when you went in, and the weather would suddenly change: Obama's displays of temper are pretty subtle and slight," said Remnick, author of The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama.
But there's a flip side to the man known as "No Drama Obama."
"Clinton was famous -- no jokes, please -- for his sense of embrace and warmth, and close friendships with his peers," Remnick added in an interview. George W. Bush was close to an ideological opposite, Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
"With Obama, there is a certain cool that that some foreign leaders have trouble coming to grips with."
Remnick, here at Town Hall on April 19 for a Seattle Arts and Lectures appearance, has not only penned a biography of the 44th president, but profiled a supporting cast of players and the very different venues where Barack Obama grew up.
He even probes the side channels.
The reader learns about the post-World War II Mercer Island upbringing of Ann Dunham, the president's mother, and the year (1961-62) when as a 20-year-old single mother she moved back from Hawaii, enrolled at the University of Washington, and pushed Barack around the streets of Seattle in a stroller.
Barack Obama has roots in lots of places, from Kansas to Kenya to Indonesia, from Punahou School in Honolulu to offices of the Harvard Law Review to the multiracial Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago.
Chicago is a tough town. Its rulers have come from entrenched families, most famously the Mayors Daley.
The iron rule: You must have a sponsor. A young lawyer (later congressman and federal judge) named Abner Mikva went to his Democratic ward committeeman to volunteer in a long-ago election. "Who sent you?" he was asked. "Nobody sent me," Mikva replied. The committeeman, Timothy O'Sullivan, took the cigar out of his mouth and said, "We don't want nobody nobody sent."
"Obama does not have deep roots in Chicago," said Remnick. "He's an outsider. He surprised mentors like Abner Mikva by his determination. He looked around and found an opening, the Illinois State Senate. It's not an exalted position.
"He lost a bid to get into Congress. He got his head handed to him. He had to find out a different way to be an African-American politician of his generation. The opening was a U.S. Senate seat."
"It was deliberate but his rise was spectacular," Remnick said. Obama was helped along by extraordinary luck.
Ex-Sen. Carol Moseley Braun opted for a quixotic 2004 presidential run. A pair of self-funded millionaires, one a Democrat and the other a Republican, saw their candidacies implode over messy divorce revelations. Obama made himself a national figure with an electrifying keynote speech to the Democratic National Convention.
Never dipping into psychobabble -- a major strength of his book -- Remnick ruminates about two key Obama relationships with the opposite sex. The most important is with wife Michelle, often a hesitant partner in his political rise.
"Married couples, partnerships, often take the form of shtick based on reality," the author joked. "In this case, it is the wise, gimlet-eyed knowing wife who punctures the ego of her husband. It's shtick but it's reality. I know she was very, very hesitant about electoral politics early in the marriage."
Obama's signature action, after he was elected, was to install his ferocious rival for the presidency -- Hillary Clinton -- as Secretary of State, the most important post in his Cabinet.
"She is very skilled, she has a worldwide reputation," said Remnick. "They are not very far apart ideologically. In making her Secretary of State, she is inside the administration, not outside the tent. It eliminated her from being a Ted Kennedy to Jimmy Carter."
The election of Obama was ultimate fulfillment of the 1960's Civil Rights movement.
The title of Remnick's book comes courtesy of Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, whose skull was fractured in the famous 1965 march: "Barack Obama is what comes at the end of that bridge in Selma."
But blue-collar white voters never warmed to Obama. "Forget the racial questions, Obama came across as very Harvard and very cool, and did not do a good job of relating to people," said Remnick.
The Tea Party movement will be mounting anti-Obama rallies on April 15 -- Income Tax day -- in 14 Washington cities. Remnick is impatient with those who depict all its activists as extremists, or see the movement as a phenomenon.
"To think this is somehow the first time we've ever seen full-throated and dirty argument in the United States is not to know American politics," he said. "It's not as if the world began with Michael Savage and Glenn Beck and the rest.
"At the same time, there's no doubt this is all influenced by an economic uncertain that goes hand to hand with the presence of an African-American president. For some people, that is intolerable.
"I hear people say, 'We have to take our country back,' and there are undoubted overtones to that. But we are not a country of white (people) and have not been for some time."
In today's supercharged climate, some likely will shut eyes and ears to Remnick's meticulous research, sense of history, ideology-free conclusions and non-cartoonish depictions of supporting players (e.g. Rev. Jeremiah Wright).
Here's hoping the majority of fair-minded, thoughtful, decent folk will appreciate a superb book.
Admission is $15, $30 for patrons, at Remnick's April 19th talk: Tickets obtained at www.brownpapertickets.com.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
"Decoding 'No-Drama' Obama: very Harvard and very cool"
Joel Connelly (seattlepi.com):