Book #49 – The Promise

The Promise: President Obama, Year OneThe Promise: President Obama, Year One by Jonathan Alter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Reading this just after the GOP sweep in the midterms has left a bitter taste in my mouth. So much opportunity lost! Yet, Alter in many ways explains why, even though the book was written before the election. It is amazing how an administration can do so much and receive credit for so little. Yes, a lot of it is superficial messaging. Yes, many of us who are political junkies were dying for a man like Obama to speak to us like adults after 8 years of  ‘Git ‘er done!’ But once elected, the White House team’s unwillingness to bend to some of that need for superficial messaging meant that he lost touch with all BUT the most dedicated, wonky supporters. Sure *I* loved learning how the sausage was made, but I’m a nut! The average out of work, or barely working American losing his house didn’t give a rats ass. Alter does a great job explaining the machinations behind the scenes that happened and he rightfully highlights the very real, long term advances in foreign policy achieved by Obama personally. He also lists thoroughly the many domestic advances made and notes the rather high record for promises kept in just that first year (tracking thank to Politifact’s Obamameter).  But this book also reveals those shortcomings that would grow into the discontent leading to the mid term losses.  Short comings that, IMHO, are much more about optics & messaging than actual policy failures (though I admit to my own impatience on the DADT issue!) It’s a great read for both supporters and detractors of this President.

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That was my official Goodreads review, this is something that I jotted down midway through the book because it was a point which struck me very sharply:

Page 280 –

After his Asia trip in November 2009 Obama vented about the media. It was bad enough that they misreported the bi laterals, wrongly assuming he got nothing in return from the Chinese. (In fact, he said, they had moved in his direction on both climate change and sanctions against Iran.) The trip reinforced his view that the American media was fundamentally unserious. He bowed too deeply to the figurehead emperor of Japan. So what?

The United States had big challenges ahead in staying competitive, and much of the media, he thought, was clueless about what was truly important. For instance, he noted that President Lee Myong Bak of South Korea, presiding over a “very competitive” economy, had said that his biggest problem in education was that Korean parents were too demanding and were insisting on importing English teachers so their kids could learn English in first grade instead of having to wait for second grade. This is what complacent America was up against. “And then I sit down with U.S. reporters, and the question they have for me, in Asia, is ‘Have I read Sarah Palin’s book?'” At this point, the president shook his head, incredulous. “True. True story.”

As I tweeted while reading this book: Barack Obama is exactly the man I thought him to be when I voted for him. When I read Dreams of My Father I was mightily impressed with a man of such depth, self confidence, pragmatism & thirst for knowledge. I felt like on a personal level I connected with who he is and what he wants from the country more than any other politician. Perhaps because he is from my generation. Perhaps because he didn’t come from a privileged background. I’ve often felt like we see the world very from a very similar perspective.  One of the main issues we agree on 100% is the lack of substance in the media. I mean – look at that up there! This is a man traveling the world & seeing things that could help inspire our own country’s focus on how we educate our kids. He’s thinking of the generations to come who will lead us and how we are often failing them – and the reporter wants to talk about a book written by a failed VP candidate & quitter Governor? WTF? It is often no *wonder* that the things he has achieved flew under the radar or have been grossly misinterpreted/simplified or viewed largely through a Fox News conservative prism.  Even as much as I pay attention to multiple news sources & enjoy learning about the sausage making processes, there were still things in The Promise that had flown under MY radar! And that’s a problem. I think the WH needs to just admit that they cannot FORCE the media to suddenly change into something more substantive & that they may need to dumb down their own approach to explaining their goals & procedures. It sucks & I wish it didn’t have to be that way, but the bottom line is that a media driven by the bumper sticker 24/7 news cycle who absolutely lapped UP the Git ‘Er Done methodology cannot just swing back out the other way to longer sentences, nuance & intelligence. The WH is going to have to meet them part way on the messaging just as they have to keep struggling with negotiating with a GOP leadership whose one goal is to make his Presidency a failure at ANY cost.

2 thoughts on “Book #49 – The Promise

Add yours

  1. M and I just had a big debate about the media. I agree with you that the White House and the Dems need to learn how to get their message out in sound bites and by dumbing it down. I know it’s sad, but I think it’s true. M disagrees vehemently with me, saying it will just continue the trend of making Americans stupid.

    Sounds like quite an interesting book. Will put that on my list.


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