Some are calling it “Primary Colors, Take 2” or “Secondary Colors.” Others are more blunt: “O, No!” Whatever derisive moniker this tome garners, conservatives say they’re not particularly impressed with “O: A Presidential Novel,” which hits bookstores Tuesday, billed as a fictional, insider’s account of the Obama White House.
Like journalist Joe Klein’s 1996 novel, “Primary Colors,” this much-hyped roman á clef, which focuses largely on the president’s 2012 re-election effort, was written by "Anonymous," who "has been in the room with Obama and wishes to remain,” well, unnamed — for now, according to publisher Simon & Schuster.
But while the media and Democrats are delighting in the midwinter parlor game of trying to determine who penned the book, Republicans are receiving it with a huge, collective yawn. They’ve been to this rodeo before.
“It seems like ‘Primary Colors Dos,’ to me,’” said Carl Forti, a prominent GOP media strategist. “And I didn't enjoy the first one all that much, so doubt I'll read it!”
For veteran Republicans familiar with Washington’s peculiar ways, the episode feels like an unfortunate case of déjà vu, a bizarre throwback to the Clinton era when Klein acknowledged being the “Anonymous” author of “Primary Colors” following a well-orchestrated publicity campaign focused on his novel.
So, is “O” simply the latest chapter in the Clintonification of the Obama presidency, a concerted effort of Obama’s inner circle to revive the era of goodwill that helped the former president emerge unscathed from scandals that would have derailed most politicians?
“If by ‘Clintonification of Obama’ you mean someone in Washington is just trying to make a quick buck off the president's name, then yeah, this is Primary Colors Take 2,” said Conn Carroll, a conservative blogger with the Heritage Foundation.
“Well, the reviews for ‘O’ (I thought Oprah trademarked that) are not as good as ‘Primary Colors,’ said GOP pollster Glen Bolger. “For drama, it is hard to match the Clintons. But clearly, Obama is trying to copy the Bill Clinton mojo — first he recycled Clinton's staff, then the book idea, and now he's trying to triangulate. For a guy who doesn't care if he's re-elected, Obama sure seems to be trying awfully hard, even at the cost of annoying his base.”
Simon & Schuster also is trying awfully hard to generate buzz for this new book. There’s been plenty of speculation that a political reporter, a blogger, or a onetime member of Obama’s staff wrote the book.
And if Simon & Schuster gets its way, that speculation will rage for weeks. Last week, NBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd tweeted that he received an e-mail from the publisher that included the following request: "You may be asked to comment on whether or not you are the author. If so, it would be great if you refrained from commenting.”
Other Republicans are ignoring the story line altogether, focused on the real-life drama that exists within Obama’s administration.
“I don't want to speculate about the book,” said Jimmy LaSalvia, a GOP strategist, “but I am looking forward to reading what Secretary Clinton has been working on during those long flights around the world.”
Actually, conservatives aren’t the only ones to give the new book a collective shrug. Michiko Kakutani, a literary critic with The New York Times, called it a “thoroughly lackadaisical performance — trite, implausible and decidedly unfunny.”
“The author of ‘O’ is described on the book flap as someone who ‘has been in the room with Barack Obama,’” Kakutani writes. “But given this novel’s many inane implausibilities, the reader can’t help but think that the writer was either a lousy observer or that the room was really enormous — a hotel ballroom, perhaps, or maybe a convention center.”
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