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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting & professional though overly friendly rendering of Obama coming out of the gate, February 12, 2011
This review is from: Revival: The Struggle for Survival Inside the Obama White House (Hardcover)
This is a highly readable though selective framing narrative of the beginning of the Obama presidency. While the book's product description describes this as an account of the first two months of the Obama presidency, it is instead an account of the issues the Obama White House first prioritized in that time where the narrative on these topics sometimes ends as late as the summer/early-Autumn of 2010.

"Revival" also seeks to illuminate the conflict amongst the various White House players; between the revival-like zeal of the campaign with the pragmatic demands of effective governance. Wolffe describes these two camps as the "revivalists" vs. the "survivalists" with Obama operating comfortably from both perspectives (similar to Reagan) but not his staff where Rahm Emmanuel is of course the most interesting survivalist. The `revival' in the title appears to have three meanings:
a) The campaign hope for real change in D.C. governance which,
b) typified many of the campaign staffers migrating to the White House to implement that dream coupled to,
c) the Obama White House politically surviving one of the most complex beginnings faced in recent American history such as the challenges faced by FDR and Reagan.

While not as comprehensive as Jonathan Alter's The Promise: President Obama, Year One which begins at the start of the credit crisis prior to the '08 election when Alter argues the Obama presidency effectively started and ending in the spring of 2010 when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was passed; "Revival" complements that book nicely by going deeper into some topics Alter didn't cover. One example is President Obama's failures to defend the 4th & 5th Amendments consistent with and in some cases worse than the previous President, e.g., Gitmo. However Wolffe also recounts a meeting between the President and ex-CIA director Michael Haydn where the latter administrated a presentation of how they were still employing "enhanced interrogation" with an implied threat that Obama needed to go along or lose the CIA. President Obama's reaction would be a spoiler so I'll reserve that for the reader's enjoyment.

Both books are also similar in regards to the type of approach employed. Both Alter and Wolffe are professional journalists, both are also talented writers and report with integrity. However both are also clearly non-conservatives rooting for the country and the president's success. Both also obtained a lot of access including the President while Mr. Wolffe's experience with the Obama camp goes back to his covering the Obama presidential primary and general campaign. So Wolffe's former beat allowed a better feel for the culture of the White House than Alter's book, especially in regards to the reactions of staffers transitioning from campaigning to governing.

Neither book is an overt hagiography but neither reporter goes out of their way to seek out critical experts to provide a more comprehensive perspective on how to more critically report on the White House's performance and to better challenge his protagonists on some subjects. This is the reason I knock the book down a star. Especially because of Wolffe's failure to demand answers from the White House on their and their DOJ's failures regarding Bush's torture policy and 4th and 5th Amendment issues as they played out at the DOJ and the positions the president's solicitors took in the courts which had Obama taking the same positions as the Bush Administration.

At least Mr. Wolffe framed the Obama Administrations positions on these amendments as failures, which doesn't even get any play at all in the mainstream media given conservative disdain for the Constitution beyond a marketing ploy so there's no two-sided controversy to report. But ultimately the lack of perspective by the protagonists on these failures is a major letdown of this book. President Obama is never challenged by Wolffe while Mr. Obama actually [falsely] claims improvement on the rule of law, especially in the area of the State Secrets Doctrine where Obama's winning position in the courts is even more reprehensible* than President Bush's, an issue Wolffe fails to even report. That's sadly ironic since Mr. Obama's failures to investigate and indict the former president and some of his staff for their criminal culpability on torture, domestic and international, coupled to Obama's failure to defend the Constitution on due process matters against alleged terrorists or for victims of terrorism is probably the biggest difference between Mr. Obama's campaign rhetoric and his positions upon taking office.

Wolffe's failure to properly challenge his subjects on their weak spots is also partly due to the President's enemies not depending on experts to provide cogent challenges to the president's performance; this led to media avoidance given the lack of drama. Instead Republicans were focused on political gamesmanship, especially obstructionism, which they deployed in unprecedented volumes by leveraging the rhetoric of delusional know-nothing idiots as illustrated by their spokespeople, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh. This Republican tactic, which resonated with the conservative public who became the most engaged voter constituency after the '08 election, results in both Wolffe and Alter focusing a lot of attention on White House communications attempts, largely conceded by the White House to be their weakest link. Communications was also the biggest source of failures both reporters claim occurred, especially in marketing their legislative initiatives, an assertion with which I concur. This latter observation is also frequently true of the first books to cover the early terms of most presidencies since it's nearly always too early to determine the success of initiatives that were deployed, though in the case of the stimulus some results and hindsight are reported in the Wolffe book.

I can't imagine someone not learning something and enjoying this book while gaining a better perspective of the early Obama presidency. So I recommend its purchase. However also expect some frustration by not getting an adequate response on this White House's failures in spite of the fact Mr. Wolffe enjoys almost unprecedented access.

*According to many (most?) constitutional scholars, including many conservative one.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 20, 2011 2:46:50 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 20, 2011 2:50:58 PM PST
Both this book and Jonathan Alter's book suffer from two serious flaws:
1) they are too idolatary, offer barely a negative analysis of Obama's mixed performance as a leader
2) they totally ignore the most serious crisis facing Obama's incoming administration: the need to reform Wall Street and get the banks to start lending again to Main Street USA in order to create jobs. Obama punted on this one, telling the Wall Street bankers: "I'm your friend." Result? Unemployment continues to hover around 10%, and Main Street USA continues to die.

For a more professional and analytical look at Obama's administration, may I suggest Ron Suskind's "The Confidence Men."
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