Newsweeks Jonathan Alter’s New White House Book: The Promise: President Obama, Year One

Posted by: Audiegrl

The Promise by Jonathan AlterBarack Obama’s inauguration as president on January 20, 2009, inspired the world. But the great promise of “Change We Can Believe In” was immediately tested by the threat of another Great Depression, a worsening war in Afghanistan, and an entrenched and deeply partisan system of business as usual in Washington. Despite all the coverage, the backstory of Obama’s historic first year in office has until now remained a mystery.

In The Promise: President Obama, Year One, Jonathan Alter, one of the country’s most respected journalists and historians, uses his unique access to the White House to produce the first inside look at Obama’s difficult debut.

What happened in 2009 inside the Oval Office? What worked and what failed? What is the president really like on the job and off-hours, using what his best friend called “a Rubik’s Cube in his brain”? These questions are answered here for the first time. We see how a surprisingly cunning Obama took effective charge in Washington several weeks before his election, made trillion-dollar decisions on the stimulus and budget before he was inaugurated, engineered colossally unpopular bailouts of the banking and auto sectors, and escalated a treacherous war not long after settling into office.

The Promise is a fast-paced and incisive narrative of a young risk-taking president carving his own path amid sky-high expectations and surging joblessness. Alter reveals that it was Obama alone—”feeling lucky”—who insisted on pushing major health care reform over the objections of his vice president and top advisors, including his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who admitted that “I begged him not to do this.”

Alter takes the reader inside the room as Obama prevents a fistfight involving a congressman, coldly reprimands the military brass for insubordination, crashes the key meeting at the Copenhagen Climate Change conference, and realizes that a Senate candidate’s gaffe about baseball in a Massachusetts special election will dash the big dream of his first year.

In Alter’s telling, the real Obama is an authentic, demanding, unsentimental, and sometimes overconfident leader. He adapted to the presidency with ease and put more “points on the board” than he is given credit for, but neglected to use his leverage over the banks and failed to connect well with an angry public. We see the famously calm president cursing leaks, playfully trash-talking his advisors, and joking about even the most taboo subjects, still intent on redeeming more of his promise as the problems mount.

Book Details Obama on ‘Teabaggers,’ Rahm’s Rage, Summers’s Nickname

Jonathan Alter of Newsweek

Jonathan Alter of Newsweek

Newsweek~As Democrats prepare to vote on the historic health-care legislation this weekend, a new look inside the White House is emerging from an upcoming book by Newsweek national-affairs columnist Jonathan Alter that’s already being buzzed about in Washington political circles. The Promise, due out from Simon and Schuster in May, chronicles in a blow-by-blow narrative Obama’s first turbulent year in office. According to an advance copy obtained by New York, Alter makes the case that early stumbles in vetting appointees and the polarized politics over the stimulus set a course for the rest of the year. While the book doesn’t upend the existing narratives about any of the administration’s major characters, it adds intimate, at times comic detail about many of them, starting with POTUS. In an interview with Alter on November 30, Obama offered that Republican opposition to the stimulus “helped create the tea-baggers and empowered that whole wing of the Republican Party where it now controls the agenda for the Republicans.”

Other vividly drawn characters include Chief Economic Adviser Larry Summers, to whom Alter writes Obama gave the nickname “Dr. Kevorkian.” Alter writes that Obama “privately supported Harvard’s decision to fire Summers in 2005 … because Summers clearly lacked the ‘diplomatic skill set’ for the Harvard presidency.'” In the White House, Summers angled for the biggest portfolio he could get, but failed to get oversight on health care and energy. One of his chief antagonists was the powerful budget director Peter Orszag. Alter writes that a tennis partner of Summers’s warned him of Orszag: “Watch out for the guy with the cowboy boots and the bad toupee.” One of the more amusing fights inside the White House, according to Alter, was over Obama’s coveted BlackBerry e-mail address, which was given to only 30 or so White House aides and Obama friends. “Summers was annoyed at not being included and complained to Rahm, who put him on the list,” writers Alter.

In an interview, Alter told me he hopes the book gives readers a deeper, more personal sense of the characters operating inside the White House. “I hope the book corrects some misconceptions and leads people to a more subtle understanding of who he is, where he has fulfilled his promise and where he’s fallen short so far,” he told me.

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