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Customer Review

on December 7, 2010
I love Richard Wolffe, and while I enjoyed this book, I found it, at least in the early sections, much less compelling than Renegade. My reaction may have been partly influenced because the early part of the book focuses so much on the impact for the administration and the Democtrats of losing the Massachusetts Senate seat to a Republican. While that was significant at the time, it pales in comparison to the more recent developments of the mid-term elections when the Democrats lost their majority in the House of Representatives. Still, I also had some issues with the content. I felt like the first half of the book provided fewer of the behind the scenes anecdotes that made Renegade so compelling. There were a lot of passages with Wolffe providing lofty, almost philosophical, context for what was going on and a broad description of what he called the Revivalist (let's change the world) vs. Survivalist (let's focus on what we can get passed) camps inside the White House. He had a lot of quotes from David Axelrod and Rahm Emmanuel but those too were broad viewpoints about the political landscape and their sense of Obama's personality. I didn't want to read a treatise -- I wanted to see people in action and tidbits you don't get in the daily news. In the whole section on the health care debate, I didn't get a lot of details that I didn't already know. That may be because I followed the health care debate on a day-to-day basis until I couldn't take the daily frettting over whether the public option was in or out and decided to turn off Countdown & ignore the articles on the Huffington Post until there was a final bill passed. Halfway through the book, though, my experience of it changed. There were fewer of those long-winded philosophical discussions and more behind the curtain glimpses of how these pople think and act. The book really picked up in my mind when it shifted to the administration's treatment of the Haiti earthquake crisis and the war in Afghanistan. I kept wishing Fox news watchers and Glenn Beck fans would read this book because they'd discover the man they want to call a demagogue is anything but -- he has such a measured, reasoned way of coming to decisions. He's far from the socialistic idealogue they insist he is. (I know they won't read it -- it seems more than a few on the right think Wolffe is an Obama hagiographer). Sadly, in reading the book I started to fear the country is ungovernable because the extremes have taken over both parties, and someone like Obama, who wants to stake out a compromised ground in the middle doesn't stand a chance. But I finished the book last week, and today (Dec 7th, 2010) Obama's coming under considerable attack for agreeing to extend the Bush tax cuts. Many on the left -- Frank Rich, Rep Anthony Weiner, and even Bill Maher -- are accusing the president of being a wimp (or a victim of "Stockholm syndrome" in Rich's term) and not understanding that occasionally in negotiating you have to take a combative, hardline stance in order to move the opposition toward compromise. The progressives are insisting Obama always gives in before he's tested how far the Republicans might move -- or be forced, by political pressures, to move. Time will tell, but it'll be interesting to see if Obama's measured, analytical, almost academic approach to information gathering and weighing options that Wolffe depicts here could ultimately be Obama's undoing.
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