Tags: Cherny | Obama | author | Maraniss

Authors Discuss Books on Obama

By    |   Monday, 16 March 2015 07:56 AM

Several authors who have written about the Obama administration made appearances at the Tucson Festival of Books at the University of Arizona March 15.
The panel, titled "Understanding the Obama Years," consisted of Ian Haney-Lopez, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Law School, author of "Dog Whistle Politics" and a senior fellow at the progressive think tank Demos; Mark Leibovich, chief national correspondent of The New York Times Magazine and author of "This Town"; and David Maraniss, associate editor of The Washington Post and author of "Barack Obama: The Story."
The panel was moderated by Andrei Cherny, former chair of the Arizona Democratic Party and co-founder of the journal Democracy. When he mentioned he had headed the Democratic Party, Cherny was applauded, and he acknowledged that "Book readers in Tucson are what we call our base."
The theme of the panel was "Politics in the Age of Obama." When asked how much politics is about the politicians, such as Presidents Obama, Clinton and Gore, and how much it is about larger trends that are going on in the economy and society, Maraniss responded that the two are inseparable and his books are prompted by his "fascination with the forces that shape people."
For Maraniss the defining feature of Obama is that he is an African American, and he said all of his reporting has led him to conclude that "Race is still the huge scar in America." He suggested that even though Obama was "about healing," just by being there, he has opened the wound again. "The Age of Obama is about him and all of those forces around him," Maraniss noted.
Cherny asked Leibovich to talk about the theme of "This Town," that much of politics today is about "trivializing, sometimes silly, processes," and he asked about the ability of anyone to affect change, as Obama promised to do. Leibovich expressed doubt as to "how much [Obama] has actually tried" and that a lot of Obama's promises resolved themselves into "Never mind." The author concluded that putting aside the policies regarding healthcare and the economy, ultimately Obama should be praised for "maintaining a level of dignity amid the chaos."
With the most recent Gridiron Club dinner fresh in his mind, Cherny asked about the interaction among the political figures. A bonus of the event was that Leibovich took this opportunity to say that the portrayal of an "alleged friendship" between President Reagan and former House Speaker Tip O'Neill (he didn't mention author Chris Mathews, who had worked for O'Neill, by name) was a fiction — "It never happened." From the point of view of a confirmed cynic, this was reassuring.
It is a bit unfortunate that Maraniss chose to put aside the substantive features of the Obama presidency — the stimulus, healthcare and environmental programs — in favor of the fluffier idea that some sort of positive zeitgeist prevailed, a thesis that probably won't hold up anyway. To his credit, Maraniss said he plans to wait until five years after Obama leaves office to write about that administration. Hopefully by then someone will seize the opportunity to tell the story of an administration defined by clumsy interventions into the key segments of the economy, an opportunity that fell into Obama's lap because of the failures of his predecessors in these areas.
(Archived video can be found here. A separate call-in segment featuring Maraniss can be found here.)

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Several authors who have written about the Obama administration made appearances at the Tucson Festival of Books at the University of Arizona March 15.
Cherny, Obama, author, Maraniss
Monday, 16 March 2015 07:56 AM
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