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A Presidency in Peril: The Inside Story of Obama's Promise, Wall Street's Power, and the Struggle to Control our Economic Future Hardcover – April 5, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Before Barack Obama's first year in office was over, the whisper of failure was already on lips of disillusioned progressives like Kuttner (Obama's Challenge). For The American Prospect co-founder and co-editor, Obama's embrace of Wall Street insiders like Timothy Geithner, Robert Rubin, and Lawrence Summers irrevocably sullied the President's message of hope and change. Worse, Kuttner sees nothing original in Obama's responses to the recession; bailing out banks over homeowners and reappointing Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke were simple retreads of Clinton and Bush II policies. Indeed, Kuttner argues that Obama ignored the template for economic recovery set by Roosevelt during the Great Depression, preferring to seek consensus on all fronts and failing to adopt more radical measures to restore the economy to health. Since it's already too late to "seize a Roosevelt moment," Kuttner sees Obama's best hope in a Harry Truman-style resurrection by finally taking on obstructionist Republicans, remaking himself as a "plainspoken man of the common people," and opening himself to proposals from the left wing of his own party. Kuttner remains optimistic, but pulls no punches: a "feckless" Obama has disappointed American voters with more of the same.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Kuttner follows his previous work, Obama’s Challenge (2008), with a scathing criticism that Obama has thus far followed in the footsteps of his predecessor, favoring Wall Street and failing to rein in its more rapacious practices. Drawing on investigations, testimony, and his own research, Kuttner details the outrageous characters and deals that have saved firms with political clout (Citibank) and shut down those without it (Bear Stearns and Lehman). He further details the enormous influence of Goldman Sachs in a system of “crony capitalism,” a revolving door of Goldman alumni who have worked for administrations dating back to the Clinton era and are now calling the shots behind the scenes in the Obama administration. By propping up failed institutions, Obama is prolonging the agony of the financial crisis, argues Kuttner. Even worse, the administration is squandering an opportunity for real financial reform on a level comparable to that of the New Deal era. Rather than prop up failed banks, the administration should have recapitalized them and restructured the entire banking system, regulating exotic derivatives and providing needed consumer protections. Kuttner argues passionately for a progressive movement to hold Obama to the promise he represented of real change in a system that continues to favor the wealthy and influential over common working Americans. A powerful, passionate work with strong arguments for how Obama might save his presidency and—more importantly—reform the American financial system. --Vanessa Bush

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 332 pages
  • Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing (April 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1603582703
  • ISBN-13: 978-1603582704
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #845,277 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert Kuttner is cofounder and coeditor of The American Prospect magazine, as well as a
Distinguished Senior Fellow of the think tank Demos. He was a longtime columnist for
BusinessWeek, and continues to write columns in the Boston Globe.
His previous and widely praised books include The Squandering of America: How the Failure
of Our Politics Undermines Our Prosperity; Everything for Sale: The Virtues and Limits of
Markets (about which Robert Heilbroner wrote, "I have never seen the market system better
described, more intelligently appreciated, or more trenchantly criticized than in Everything for
Sale"); The End of Laissez-Faire: National Purpose and the Global Economy After the Cold
War; and The Economic Illusion: False Choices Between Prosperity and Social Justice.
Kuttner"s magazine writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine and Book Review,
The Atlantic, The New Republic, The New Yorker, Dissent,
Columbia Journalism Review, and Harvard Business Review. He has contributed
major articles to The New England Journal of Medicine as a national policy correspondent.
Formerly an assistant to the legendary I.F. Stone, chief investigator for the Senate Banking Committee, Washington Post staff writer, economics
editor for The New Republic, and university lecturer, Kuttner"s decades-long intellectual and political project has been to revive the
politics and economics of harnessing capitalism to serve a broad public interest.

Obama's Challenge Web Site
Demos - A Network for Ideas and Action
The American Prospect

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Kevin L. Nenstiel TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Paul Kuttner gives disillusioned Obama voters the vocabulary to understand why the President who instilled such hope in 2008 leaves us so cold in 2010. While the administration chases increasingly unpopular ancillary goals, Americans worry about their pocketbooks, and watch Obama's economists squander his mandate by protecting the people who created our mess. President Obama lets the noble goal of bipartisanship trump actually getting anything done.

Kuttner, a political economist, dissects specifically the administration's poor fiscal choices in its first fourteen months. He isn't a historian, polemicist, or journalist; he presents no illusion of completeness or reportorial balance. Kuttner doesn't deny that he wishes Obama were more proactive and Keynesian, and that he's urging the President further to the left. He writes in hopes that Obama can reclaim the initiative and turn a failing economy around.

This book spares no personalities. Kuttner's chief enemy isn't the Republican minority, but the Robert Rubin branch of the Democratic party. Rubin as much as anyone bears personal blame for the current snafu, but Obama's economic team is dominated by Rubin protégés. Instead of boldly wading in to repair the deeply damaged economy, Obama has stayed hands-off, letting Rubin, Geithner, and Bernanke molly-coddle those who created our economic mess.

Massive TARP funds stopped mega-banks from hemorrhaging money, but did nothing about the institutional gangrene that created the problem in the first place.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Herbert L Calhoun on June 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is the book I thought I was buying when I bought the "valentine to Obama" by Jonathan Alter called "The "Promise." Alter's book, disappointingly, proved to be little more than a gift-wrapped package of apologies for Obama's meager accomplishments so far: all done without any serious policy analysis. Alter makes Timothy Geithner a hero?

Not so here. In this carefully researched nuanced brief, Kuttner is not afraid to call a spade a spade. He puts his analysis where his mouth is, and in doing so, provides some serious behind-the-scenes revelations bout the cabal responsible for the financial collapse, albeit from an avowedly progressive perspective. Thank god however, this did not turn out to be just another Obama apologia. As a "born-again ex-Obama supporter," I share the author's main concern: That our new President has spent all of his political capital chasing the "phantom of bipartisanism" by "hacking," "tacking" and "triangulating" his way to the right. In the process, he has had to cozy up to the Wall Street crowd, led by Bill Clinton's buddy, Robert Rubin, and also at the same time, has found it convenient to jettison his base: the progressives (like me) who "went to the well" for him during the election. Kuttner makes the point that once we progressives have elected Obama it is still our duty to help keep him honest? Well, excuse me? I thought that was precisely why we elected him? Why is it that the Republicans do not have to "keep their elected officials" honest, when we democrats do? Why do, once we have elected them, they get the religious bug to want to move to the "non-existent center?" All of a sudden, once elected, democrats (but not the Republicans) have found the new (non-existent) religion of bipartisanism?
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Patrick McCormack VINE VOICE on April 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The reporting in this book is excellent, the kind of detail about how President Obama has made his choices, filled his cabinet, and created his policy alternatives -- the kind of detail that used to be reported in long articles in the New York Times and Washington Post.

The tone of the book is mildly alarmist. The author is concerned that the Obama team has triangulated towards Wall Street, towards advisors that support power and money institutions, and away from clear principles. This judgement, popular among progressives, is premature.

I have always believed that the test of a policy, left or right, is whether it persists in a workable fashion. It is a temporary victory to pass a bill, to announce a reform. A signing ceremony may be a cool thing, but there is something called implementation that has been given short shrift among political reporters. They have essentially gravitated towards a sports reporting model, concentrating on whom is winning the moment. This book, as well sourced as it is, has a bias. That bias is not the unobjectionable progressivism of the author, it is the desire for closure, too early in the complex Presidency of Barack Obama.

Surely, the test of this President is whether financial reforms allow stable growth in the American economy, and not whether some organizations got richer? Surely the test for health care reform is whether it expands coverage and lowers or contains costs? Yet halfway through the first quarter, we have pundits calling "game over".

This book should have been a long, detailed article, and the title should have been "Obama: The First Quarter". To be fair, the author does note that the timing is early, and that Obama is on the brink, not in the tank.
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