The book begins with an analysis of Barack Hussein Obama (BHO) made by Bill Clinton in a private rump session held at the Clinton home, in which Bill (with Chelsea's support), was trying to urge Hillary to break ranks with BHO and run against him in 2012. Bill's analysis, as usual was as cold-blooded as it was sound: He argued (rather convincingly in my view) that although BHO was smart, and could made great speeches, he was not a communicator. He and his staff spoke and acted in sound bites. And had flubbed their own policies without even trying. They know how to run a good campaign but do not know how to engage in retail politics, or how to govern. In short, BHO is incompetent; in over his head; a rank amateur. On the other hand, as Bill ended his soliloquy, Hillary he said is seen as tough, experienced and tested. Now was her time to go for the brass ring. After Hillary rolled her eyes in disgust and asked him about loyalty, Bill answered by saying that loyalty in politics is a joke. There is no word for it in the rulebook. Plus, where was BHO's sense of loyalty? Although other presidents (including Republican ones) had called on him for advice, BHO had ignored him. The guy simply does not know how to be president. He does not know how the world works. He is an amateur.
Bill Clinton's short soliloquy urging Hillary to run against Obama, is how the book got its title and is perhaps the best possible summary of the book, for it gets to the core of what the book is about: What exactly is lacking in the Obama administration?
Using Bill's soliloquy as a launch point, we see through the author's eyes that what is missing is a sense of how to govern, a lack of passion and a lack personal interest and of action or ownership of his own policies, the feeling that the man in the clock tower is a cypher, a ghost, a dispassionate technocrat, that he is not really there and that if he is, he is lacking a normal humanity. And while it is clear to everyone that BHO is a good campaigner, a great speaker, a shrewd triangulator, and among the best Machiavellian operators we have seen in recent years, he is not a leader. He lacks a clearly defined character.
Thus from this platform, the author goes in search of the answer as to why Mr. Obama is not a leader. He begins to decode the Obama enigma by trying to fill in the blanks. He scrounges into BHO's past, touching all of the familiar signposts in BHO's history -- from his defeat by Bobby Rush for the Illinois Senate race, to the spiritual tutoring by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, to honing his speaking abilities at operation PUSH by the Reverend Jessie Jackson, to his eventual ascent to the U.S. Senate and then on to the Presidency. But as important as these events and these two men were in helping to shape the Obama identity, the key that eventually unlocked the BHO mystery lay at the foot of another Chicagoan: Valerie Jarrett, the Obamas' Consigliore, their Svengali and their self-appointed gatekeeper into the minds and hearts of Obamadom, and into the U.S. Presidency under the Obamas.
Klein makes a strong case that Ms. Jarrett, a holdover from the Daly machine days, and affectionately known in White house circles as "VJ", is the key to understanding most of the dysfunction that has become the Obama administration. VJ has used her power of the ability to deny access to the President jealously, sometimes mean-spiritedly and often capriciously. Due to her lack of political training and inexperience, VJ has no clear sense of the lay of the political landscape that the president has to deal with, and thus of what is needed to protect the president from outsiders as well as from himself. The author concludes that with VJ and Michelle leading the pack as BHO's primary palace guards, those whom he himself says he trusts implicitly, the Obama white house has truly become a case of the blind leading the blind. The U.S. presidency has been channeled down, and imprisoned in, a narrow alley carved out by inexperience and sycophancy; and as a result, its vital blood supply has been cutoff from serious critiques, from fresh ideas and from the outside world generally. As a result, BHO hears only what Michelle and VJ want him to hear. They both also weight in heavily on his decisions, his appointments, who he sees, and where he travels. In short the U.S. presidency, the leader of the Western World, is being overseen and tended by a couple of inexperienced "mother hens." The leadership vacuum we see at the center of the oval office begins with Obama's failure to break away from these two mother hens that have turned the presidency into their own private preserve.
And although there have been a few triumphs in the Obama administration under this arrangement, on balance the result has been unnecessary dysfunction, inconsistent policy formulation, a failure to engage Congress or lead the Democratic Party, untimely and unnecessary turnovers in key positions, a failure to learn from experience, disloyalty and gratuitous political insults and slights to contributors and backers in the democratic political base. This includes supporters as close as Oprah Winfry, Caroline Kennedy, the Reverend Jessie Jackson, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jewish donors, Black leaders, and the whole left end of the political spectrum. All in all, it all adds up to a dismal failure in presidential leadership.
The only complaint I had with an otherwise, first-class analysis and well-written presentation was the inconsistent attempt by the author to gratuitously and repeatedly tag BHO with the label of being a left-wing radical (a left-leaning ideological wolf in sheep clothing as he put it). In trying so desperately to tag BHO with this label, the author obviously has missed BHO's main stratagem: to fake out his base with left-leaning rhetoric, while at the same time moving decidedly and decisively to the right of center on most of his policies!
May I suggest that the author presented not a scintilla of evidence to back up his insinuations that BHO is a freewheeling, leftwing ideologue. Quite the contrary in fact, there is much presented here that is overlooked by the author suggesting that BHO is not much of a left-winger at all, but if anything is an avowed right-of-center politician. Foremost among the pieces of evidence presented in this book is the author's own characterization of BHO's economic policies as being "State Capitalism," and the fact that BHO's policies in almost every respect, fall just short of being identical to those of his predecessor, the radical right-winger, GW Bush.
Despite this habit of occasionally (and disingenuously in my view) tossing a few chunks of red meat to his right wing readers, Ed Klein may have penned the best and most serious critique of the Obama administration yet. His conclusion is the same as that of Bill Clinton's: that while BHO is smart in the policy wonk sense, he is temperamentally unsuited to be president; that although Mr. Obama can make a fine speech and is a better then average University teacher, he is no communicator, and is inept in the fine art of retail politics, management and governance.
It should be noted that in this context, the author offers this assessment of BHO by comparing Mr. Obama with at least two past presidents, JFK, and Woodrow Wilson, who in similar circumstances learned, improved and were successful for the rest of their respective terms. But the author's analysis is also based on more than 200 interviews of those close to Mr. Obama, on the author's own assessments of BHO's management style and the results of what the author sees as his failed policies. Of the twelve or so books I have read and reviewed on Mr. Obama, this one gets closer to the truth of Mr. Obama than any of the others. Five stars.
Retired Foreign Service Officer and past Manager of Political and Military Affairs at the US Department of State. For a brief time an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Denver and the University of Washington at (more...