Anyone who follows politics at the most rudimentary level knows something about this book. The earlier effort byHow Not to Run a Presidential Campaign
Anyone who follows politics at the most rudimentary level knows something about this book. The earlier effort by Halperin & Heilemann, Game Change achieved a unique sense of notoriety, quickly consigning Sarah Palin (if you believe their reports) to the lowest rung of Dante’s political cauldron – political bitch without a clue. Both the book & subsequent HBO film exposed the Presidential campaign trail as not for the faint of heart. Double Down takes up where Game Change left off; or, more accurately, it continues right down that same sleazy political trail it so well captured before. Before going any further I want to share something about my approach to this review.
Normally, when writing about a book I have just finished, I dive right in & begin the draft. Or, I’ll have taken notes while reading the book & l refer to them to help me flesh out my thoughts. Occasionally, in the midst of reactions to both what I’ve drafted & read, I’ll take a peek at the Goodreads reviews to see where others have landed. However, in the case of Double Down, prior to beginning my evaluation I first read a number of reviews, extremely curious about how my fellow readers handled their responses to Halperin & Heilmann’s second Presidential campaign analysis. I think there was another reason at play here; I believe I was influenced by what Halperin & Heilemann themselves did in creating this non-fiction piece that reads like fiction. Not to steal from or diminish the book’s title, but they “doubled down.” Through extensive research & I’m sure, some creative leeway, they place the reader in the room where conversations occur. Sound familiar? You feel like you’re peering over Romney’s shoulder, or maybe, standing next to one of Obama’s lieutenant’s, hanging on every word. Where did this happen before? Now we all know that they weren’t there; they were either relying upon the testimony of someone who claimed to be there or knew someone who knew someone who said this was how it happened. Any way you want to slice it, like any narrative of this nature they’re relying on others for the truth of their story. They’ve doubled down on the same gambit that proved so successful for them in Game Change. Now, here’s the critical question – does this approach work second time around – not necessarily. There was something especially irreverent about their first venture. There was a certain joie de vivre percolating throughout the entire escapade. All of the players basked in their own bad reflections. As egregious as some their actions may have been, almost in spite of them, one could not help but laugh with them & at them. Drumroll, please. Again, I ask, what happened here? Nothing left for me to do but escort the elephant (intentional pad pun) into the room. Where is Sarah Palin? I don’t mean the wench herself – living as I do in Alaska, she is too close for proximity already. I mean where is the singular, mega-star defining melt-down, nuclear orb with a swish & bite like a rabid bat? Where’s the face of the book that goes for the jugular & then spits the stream of chunky blood back in your face. I’ll tell you where. She’s still in Game Change, doing the hootchie-koo on McCain’s campaign manager’s face, Steve Schmidt.
Enough carping. As a political junkie, I’d be lying if I said that I did not thoroughly enjoy their retelling of the campaign. It was the perfect book for the occasion – a trek home by plane (long enough that I was able to knock the book out in a single day of travel). It reinforced some of the negative images I had about certain political players & gave some depth to others who before I had viewed as two-dimensional villains. And let’s face it, like any other red-blooded American political spectator I’m out for blood. Because as our politicians continue to teach us – it’s a blood sport & whether the splatter is spurting from your team or the others there’s a certain voyeuristic, schadenfreude watching them all go down under their own badly spewed rhetorical stream of fire. It’s just when you raise the bar, ya gotta vault over it. There is no choice.
Hell, we all know this is no way to run a Presidential campaign, but if you’re gonna trash it, bring out the dumpster – the really big one & let the refuse scatter wherever the breezes of political chicanery happen to blow. ...more
Maraniss believes that to fully grasp the totality of someone's character it is not only necessary to peel back that individual's psyLooking for Obama
Maraniss believes that to fully grasp the totality of someone's character it is not only necessary to peel back that individual's psychic epidermis, but also, of utmost importance, to conduct a genealogical probe of that person's ancestors. We really do not even get to meet Barry Obama (it would be years before "Barack" replaces "Barry") until more than halfway through the book. And even then, the narrative weaves back & forth, referencing his father, paternal grandfather & assorted relatives on that side of the family. Almost equal amounts of time are allocated to his mother's oddly eccentric brood. There is the family's still haunting but hushed, closeted humiliating suicide of his great-grandmother Ruth. And there are the chapters devoted to the people who more than anyone else, raised Obama - his maternal grandparents. Like mismatched bookends, Maraniss details how they infused the young Obama with personality characteristics that would become part & parcel of the persona that now occupies the global stage.
Implicit in his focus on Obama's immediate & not so immediate family is the underlying assumption that this deep dive into family lore & tragedies will allow us to better understand the many nuances of his complex personality. Even more, there is the suggestion that much like inherited physical genes Obama has benefited/suffered from the personality strengths & anomalies of his parents & grandparents. And so Maraniss raises a fascinating question to ponder - how much of who we are is predicated upon the characteristics of those family members we may have never met. One might possibly take away from this introspective study, that much of who we are, in particular at least, for Obama, is the sense of so much beyond our immediate control. And yet, it's not. More than anything that is what emerges as Obama's personal struggle - a quest to define & propel himself forward, not really sure of exactly who he is or where he came from....more
"Nobody knows the troubles I've seen" could be the mantra all former Presidents of the United States share with one anothThe Secret Admiration Society
"Nobody knows the troubles I've seen" could be the mantra all former Presidents of the United States share with one another. Regardless of their political ideology, success or lack of it in the White House, all these men are bonded by an experience only shared by 44 men since George Washington signed on as #1. Nancy Gibbs & Michael Duffy do a simply mesmerizing job of weaving together intimate portraits of former Presidents assisting current Presidents, usually in a self-sacrificing way, though not always. Who could have ever imagined that "Tricky Dick" would emerge as one of President Clinton's most trusted secret confidants. And if someone had told you after Clinton defeated George H. W. Bush in a bitter election that 20 years later he would be a keynote speaker at a Kennedy Center gala to honor former President Bush & that at that event, in front of thousands of guests, he would conclude a tribute to his former nemesis by saying, "I love you," you would have thought that person had lost their marbles. Yet, he did say that & other Presidents said the damndest sweetest things to one another, though in earlier times each was going for the others' jugular.
It turns out that after the heat of the battle (campaign for the presidency)these men discovered that more than anything they cared most about serving their country & in that process learned to appreciate, if not downright like their political opponents. These gentlemen, who did belong to the most exclusive Fraternity ever, basked in their admiration of each others accomplishments & struggles. For the most part, once out of office, these former Presidents strove to continue to serve & support the new President, even when they did not agree with the man's policies. It goes without saying that it did not always go smoothly & that some of the ex-Prezes let their egos get in the way, but that is only to be expected. What was not expected, by me at least, is that these men reached beyond their partisan inclinations to help out a new President & in doing so, helped move our country forward in the grand, adventurous way that has defined the arc of our nation. ...more
While Donald provides a pithy summary of Teddy's legacy, it is far too lacking in anecdotal coverage. After reading it I knew what tTeddy - Who Are Ya
While Donald provides a pithy summary of Teddy's legacy, it is far too lacking in anecdotal coverage. After reading it I knew what this President had accomplished, but I lacked a sense of who he really was....more
Considering that President Jefferson is one of our most illustrious & oft referenced Founding Fathers, I was surprised by hFather of the Tea Party
Considering that President Jefferson is one of our most illustrious & oft referenced Founding Fathers, I was surprised by how little I knew about him. My immediate memories reminded me of the same sorts of myths that surround Washington. Heroic. Brilliant. Architect. Singular writer of The Declaration of Independence. Died on the 50th anniversary of the 4th of July. And, while all of this is true, it barely scratches the surface of who he really was. And then again, therein lies the brilliance of this captivating character analysis by Mr. Ellis. Not intended as a straight forward biography, instead, Ellis is concerned about the multi-layered enigmas of his personality & political persuasions. How is it that one man can be claimed as the source of inspiration by such diverse individuals & groups. Palin quotes his infamous hurrah: "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure." And Abraham Lincoln said he often read Jefferson's words for guidance during the struggles of the Civil War. Regardless, however one wants to interpret the meanings of his sometimes contradictory statements, there is no confusing his stance on the appropriate size of government - small. The smaller the better. Jefferson is, without any doubt, not only an advocate of, but a true believer of the philosophy that the best good government is no government. It is for that belief, which he held till his dying breath, that I acknowledge him as the Founding Father of the Tea Party. It is a sobriquet he would not argue with. ...more
If, as the maxim goes, the "devil is in the details" then Branch's tome is a testament to that claim. Branch does what
Clinton: Details of a Presidency
If, as the maxim goes, the "devil is in the details" then Branch's tome is a testament to that claim. Branch does what few presidential memoirs achieve - provides the reader with the indelible sense of being a fly on the wall during momentous occasions. And then again this is not a typical memoir, definitely not a biography. Branch had been enlisted by President Clinton on a secret mission. He was asked to help the President assemble a oral record of the President's thoughts, impressions & feelings. So, over nearly 80 separate sessions during the course of his 8 years in office Branch met with Clinton to ask him questions & record what he had to say. Without revealing the details of those voluminous tapes this book relates the process while summarizing some of the more salient bits discussed.
Noteworthy then is the sheer scope of relevant data that is offered up. We are privy to the back & forth political machinations that embroiled the fierce negotiations between the Israelis, Palestinians & Syrians as they struggled to fashion a peace accord.And even though we know all too well the resolution to this series of unsuccessful negotiations, the tension is palpable with each futile, but grasping stretch for a solution. We are present to witness the President's painful recollections of his regrets over the Lewinsky scandal & how they seriously influenced the outcome of the Bush/Gore election tussle. And there are the moments when it all comes together & we see how Bosnia & Kosovo were saved from even more death & destruction than already bestowed upon them.
By the time you reach the book's conclusion, you realize that Branch has wisely not judged one way or the other the wisdom of President Clinton's choices or beliefs. Much like conducting an autopsy (though not nearly as gruesome),he just lays bare what he finds. It is still up to each of us, on our own, to wrestle with the validity of what President Clinton had to say. ...more
I sought out this biography of Grant because it appeared to be a straight forward, relatively condensed version of his life.A Forgotten American Hero
I sought out this biography of Grant because it appeared to be a straight forward, relatively condensed version of his life. After reading Chernow's excellent tome on Washington I was looking for something a little less weighty, more digestible without causing indigestion. And that is exactly what Ms. Waugh's treatment of President Grant delivers. A professor of history at UCLA she presents a crisp, slightly academically skewed analysis of Grant's ascendancy to the Presidency, his challenges once there & subsequent treatment by the nation during his life & decline from the nation's grace following his death. Waugh hints early in her biography that she believes Grant was treated unfairly & has not received the recognition due him. Acknowledging that apparent bias she does a fine job delineating his many strengths while honestly cataloging the flaws that caused some historians to brand him a failure, one of the weakest of all Presidents. Waugh places the blame for his slide from almost universal adulation to forgotten ignominy on the shoulders of Southern revisionists - those who attempted to re-position the Civil War as something other than the South futilely trying to hold onto slavery & rebel against the Union. These revisionist sentiments gained preeminence for years, not being successfully debunked until the 1960's. However, by that time it was too late to resuscitate Grant's reputation - a task left to future historians, like Waugh. ...more