It’s one thing to view President Barack Obama’s failings from the outside. It’s another to learn from the inside that his thinking really is that of the community organizer he once was and that he attributes criticism of his policies to the fact that he is African-American.
In that fashion, “The Obamas” by Jodi Kantor confirms our worst fears about the president.
A New York Times reporter, Kantor is not out to get Obama. But by telling an honest story based on interviews with his close associates, Kantor manages to paint a devastating portrait of the current occupant of the White House and show how radically different his attitudes are from that of every other American president.
Unlike Ron Suskind’s “Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President” reviewed in my story "Don’t Trust Suskind’s New Obama Book
," Kantor’s book is believable and compelling.
In “The Obamas,” we learn that the first couple had misgivings about coming to Washington and having the honor of occupying the White House.
From the beginning, the bedrock of the Obamas’ relationship was their “shared passion for social change,” Kantor writes. The question was whether being president could achieve that ambition.
“The Obamas had spent their marriage debating how much change was possible within the political system and whether public life could be made livable,” Kantor writes. “The first lady was the worrier, with little trust that government could create lasting change and fear that political life was inherently corrosive.”
Kantor quotes Michelle as saying, “I didn’t come to politics with a lot of faith in the process. I didn’t believe that politics was structured in a way that could solve real problems for people.”
In the end, “Michelle wasn’t exactly overjoyed to move to the White House, an aide said, but she was determined,” Kantor writes. Obama did not disagree, she writes.
Kantor recalls that Michelle Obama said when her husband began running, “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country.” Both Obamas believed that the gap between those who are successful and those who are poor “lay less in talent or hard work than in opportunity, power, access, and wealth.”
In other words, they rejected the very foundation of the American dream — that anyone can make it in America if they have the drive, ambition, and brains.
Equally shocking, Obama views his wife as representing the average American.
“Michelle’s role was to pull him back into the world of everyday concerns, telling him what she believed regular people truly thought,” Kantor says. She quotes Obama as saying, “In some ways Michelle is similar to the audience we want to be speaking to.”
Michelle, he said, “gives me a good read on what’s penetrating her consciousness in terms of the news because she’s not following it all the time.”
In undertaking such initiatives as his healthcare legislation, Obama appears intent on pleasing her. Obama’s aides warned him that the legislation was too radical.
As chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel mounted what another aide called a “nonstop campaign” to convince the president to scale back his efforts on healthcare. Obama’s aide David Axelrod showed him poll after poll indicating that the effort was costing him precious public support.
But Obama listened to Michelle. Tellingly, when the president talked to aides about his eagerness to pass the legislation despite the political costs, he cited his wife.
Behind the scenes, Obama displays the arrogance of a teenager.
“Obama had always had a high estimation of his ability to cast and run his operation,” Kantor says. “When David Plouffe, his campaign manager, first interviewed for a job with him in 2006, the senator gave him a warning. ‘I think I could probably do every job on the campaign better than the people I’ll hire to do it,’ he said.
Obama said to Patrick Gaspard, whom he hired to be the campaign’s political director, “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters.” He added, “I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.”
As Obama began to slip in the polls, he looked to Michelle even more than before for approval.
“With the president’s isolation increasing, with his own solitary nature exacerbated by the loneliness of the presidency, Michelle’s feel for the emotional element of an argument, for what most Americans cared about, was more essential than ever,” Kantor says.
Yet the fact is “she had only a little more contact with everyday people than her husband,” Kantor says. “The fact that he was still relying on her as a barometer of public opinion was evidence of just how removed he was from it.”
Neither Obama “fully grasped the dramatic change in the public mood that had taken place in the months since he was elected, or the collective sudden panic about government spending,” Kantor says.
Cut off from the texture and nuance of American daily life, the Obamas viewed the opposition to the president’s agenda as a series of tendentious and ill-motivated allegations, a continuation of the nastiest rhetoric from the 2008 campaign, Kantor observes in her book, which is based in part on interviews with 33 current or former White House aides or Cabinet officers.
“Because of prejudice, some Americans were never going to accept anything he did as president, Obama told aides,” according to Kantor. “As a consequence,” the book says, “it is not clear that the Obamas heard what was most valuable and true in the public resistance to the healthcare plan and its overall cost.”
Indeed, Kantor says Obama is an elitist.
“He often showed a sweeping disdain for entire categories of the powerful — members of Congress, bankers — and a natural attraction to underdogs, to anyone he saw as vulnerable, ignored, or left behind,” Kantor says. He even has no use for the fawning press, which occasionally ventures criticism of him.
“In private, advisers were struck by Obama’s sadness and anger,” Kantor says.
“In his mind’s eye, they said, he could still see the faces of his supporters in 2008, the crowds gathered in parks and on riverbanks, sometimes a hundred thousand people strong. He didn’t understand how his own version of the presidency had come to depart so completely from the one the public believed, and he hated that the public thought he was weak, unsuccessful.”
As for running again, it’s not to restore the country to strength and prosperity. Rather, “Obama’s rationale for another term still sounded mainly defensive: He had to run to save the country from Republicans, or he wanted four more years to validate the work he had already done as president,” Kantor says.
Still, Obama looked forward to leaving the presidency. Then, writes Kantor, he would “finally be unencumbered by politics and free to create real, lasting change.”
So far, the press has focused on the book’s depiction of friction between Michelle Obama and the White House staff. Many in the media see the book as otherwise favorable to the Obamas because they view the world through the same liberal lens.
While admitting she had not read the book, Michelle told CBS’s Gayle King that it portrays her as an “angry black woman,” a notion she rejects. Her comment is telling. The book does not paint her in racial tones. She could just as easily have been described as an angry liberal white woman who sounds much like the Occupy Wall Street protesters. But Michelle Obama carries a chip on her shoulder.
Reading “The Obamas” is like finding out from your doctor that, after suspecting it based on symptoms, you really do have cancer. The only question is how Americans could have been fooled into electing Barack Obama president.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. He is a New York Times best-selling author of books on the Secret Service, FBI, and CIA. His latest, "The Secrets of the FBI," has just been published. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via email. Go Here Now.
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