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The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies Hardcover – June 4, 2013
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Things were not looking good for President Obama at the time of the 2012 election: the economy was still struggling, no one seemed to really understand how Obamacare would work, and the Republicans’ number-one objective remained obstructing the president’s programs. Even Bill Clinton thought Obama would lose. So what turned it around? In a narrative that is as engaging as it is informative, veteran political writer Alter offers a mix of answers: Republican overreach, too many primaries, demographics, the Obama campaign’s smart use of twenty-first century technology, and the unexpected moments that always seem to shake up elections (Clint Eastwood, meet Hurricane Sandy). Oh, and the ability of the Democrats to paint Romney as a one-dimensional rich kid, a position that was cemented by the famous recording of him denigrating 47 percent of the American people. Because Alter has so much to cover here, some of the issues get shorter shrift than others, but all the important points are hit: the introduction of Tea Party politics; the absence of the president’s “schmooze gene”; campaign trail highs and lows; the debates, especially the first one with Obama MIA; and plenty about both policy and politics, which sets up a solid framework for the dishier parts of the story. (No one seems to like Valerie Jarrett except the Obamas.) Containing analysis as well as reportage and with most of the quotes sourced, this makes for good history as well as a good read. --Ilene Cooper
“An elegant, intelligent, crisply constructed account … It will be required reading for any serious student of the Obama presidency, present or future. … One of America’s most highly respected political journalists, Alter … makes a singular contribution by capturing Obama’s famously inscrutable political persona and demystifying it in the context of his daily work as president. … Alter has gained access to key people within the president’s orbit, enabling him to create a rich portrait of [Obama].” (The Washington Post)
“Highly informed, energetically reported…. Alter gives us a lucid picture of the toxic, highly partisan political environment in which today’s controversies are occurring.” (The New York Times)
“Alter's book abounds in such peeks inside the competing campaigns…excellent reporting.” (Los Angeles Times)
“A calm, virtuoso work of journalism. Alter brings a clear eye to recognizing both the shortcomings and the victories of the 2012 Obama campaign and the administration before and after the election…. one of the best books about our befuddling, original, American version of democracy.” (The New York Daily News)
“Common-sense politics devolve into a season of craziness in this engrossing account of the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign. Journalist Alter follows up his bestselling The Promise: President Obama, Year One with a savvy dissection of the 2010–2012 election cycle and related political dogfights.…Lucid, entertaining, and alive to the reality behind the posturing, Alter’s report reveals the high stakes and far-reaching import of the 2012 decision.” (Publishers Weekly, Starred Review)
Top customer reviews
Alter's more detailed account of the election itself is really unbiased; pointing flaws by both Obama and Romney. However, Romney, partially due to a long primary fight, ended up making more gaffes, flip-flops, and amateurish mistakes. On top of that, Romney clearly showed he was out of touch with middle class America. While Romney was caring and empathetic in private, for, whatever reasons, he and his campaign never showed that on the trail.
Romney's running of his campaign more as a business hurt his chances as well. Instead of adopting innovative analytics, like the Obama campaign did in both 2008 and 2012, he greatly hurt his chances of developing messages that resonated with voters. But his 47 percent remark did show a darker side to the man. The man responsible for shooting the video, Prouty, remembered how Romney was amazed at how, during the same speech Romney made the 47 percent remark, a fence was designed to keep people on the outside from coming into a sweatshop in China. Prouty remembered how Romney showed no sadness or empathy and was willing to pan to the Republican base after wrapping up the nomination instead of continuing to run a centrist campaign like he usually did during the primaries.
Obama made mistakes along the way, too. Obama was slow at making certain decisions at critical points in the campaign, which tended to hurt him at particular moments. Not to mention, in his first two years in office, he was so focused on learning the political game inside D.C. that he completely forgot that his greatest asset was the American people. When pushing Obamacare through, he regrets not stump-speeching more on the issue and this, unfortunately, led to Republicans spinning Obamacare successfully as "death panels."
Obama wasn't into schmoozing in the political arena either. He preferred to govern and get things done. Sadly, this led to many people, who were used to presidents schmoozing as part of their job, believing Obama to be arrogant and out of touch. This developed some heated, and in some cases broken, relationships Obama had created during his initial run for president in 2008. Obama was no fan of Romney either. In fact, he despised him. Obama thought Romney to be an empty suit who was out of touch with the poor and middle class and had a lot handed to him in life; to which there is a lot of truth in.
Obama admits to his first debate as being, not only his fault, but a complete failure. While he hated debates, he made sure he got his punches in the final two and took a couple of big ones at Romney in the final debate.
"The Center Holds" is a wonderful book that does a wonderful job at painting both candidates, and campaigns, in a humanizing and unbiased way. For those who love politics, and want to know a little bit more about the inner workings of the 2012 election, this book is worth your time!
To be sure, many on the right won't like The Center Holds--Romney and team come off as even more out of touch--and Alter makes some sweeping statements that probably won't hold up to scrutiny.
Still, Alter has the just the right concoction of policy and personality to make for a book that will appeal to people interested in both.