The Amateur: Barack Obama in the White House
by Edward Klein
Regnery, 2012, 256 pages, US$16.77
Not until the first week of June did it dawn on America’s liberal-leftist mainstream media, which constitutes the virtual entirety of America’s mainstream media with the exception of Fox News and various populist radio stations, that The One might only serve the one term. This is not how the fairy tale was supposed to end. Two Time magazine writers, Mark Halperin and Elizabeth Dias, lashed out at Matt Drudge’s “media freak show” website Drudge Report, accusing it of being a “circus” posting items scornful of “Obama and Vice President Joe Biden and their wives”. Drudge Report had even given prominence to Edward Klein’s “virulently” anti-Obama tome, The Amateur, just when Klein was being “barred from major TV appearances and mostly ignored by the mainstream media”. Anti-Obama polemic apparently has no place in the public domain during an election year.
Edward Klein might have been a long-standing Democrat and a former editor at the New York Times and Newsweek but the mainstream media, whenever it deigned to mention his book, went for the jugular. Janet Maslin, writing in the New York Times, at least managed to be somewhat amusing in her opening gambit:
The Amateur by Edward Klein is a book about an inept, arrogant ideologue who maintains an absurdly high opinion of his own talents even as he blatantly fails to achieve his goals. Oh, and President Obama is in this book too.
Maslin has nothing positive to say about The Amateur, dismissing it as a “skimpy, bitter book” with “no capacity for explaining specifics”. She is not entirely wrong, in the sense that a touch of the tabloids pervades numerous passages in The Amateur, and yet she ignores the possibility that it amounts to something more than a series of salacious anecdotes. Edward Klein’s tome, as it happens, is the cry of resentment from a Democrat who fears his party, not to mention his country, has been hijacked.
Klein is very good on the commandeering of the 2008 election campaign. America, caught up in Red–Blue acrimony, craved a non-divisive political figure who would reconcile a polarised country. The wily Chicago journalist and political consultant David Axelrod found a way to present the fellow with the most radical voting record in the United States Senate as the ideal agent for bringing the nation together. Remarkably, his scheme worked. Klein deftly summarises the process:
To sell Obama to [mainstream] voters, Axelrod performed a brilliant piece of political legerdemain. He turned Obama’s negatives into positives. He devised a narrative for Obama in which the candidate was presented as a black man who would heal America, not divide it, a moderate non-partisan who would rescue America, not threaten it. Axelrod sold Obama to a significant swath of the electorate as an American Messiah.
The ascendancy of Obama—“a conciliator who had tried to bring together his white mother and black father, who strove to integrate the racial and cultural conflicts in his own life”—signified the moment in history when the United States of America (not to mention the whole planet) would begin to reconcile with its divided self. The One had come to rescue the many from their sins.
For conservatives, Axelrod’s fantasy narrative contained all the weightiness of a Michael Jackson song. In contrast, America’s “liberal establishment”, controlling the media, academia, Hollywood, the music industry, and even mainstream Protestant denominations, not only jumped aboard the Obama peace train with alacrity, they also convinced independents and swinging voters to join them on the ride. Back in 2008 the predominant mood in GFC-affected America was anti-Bush. John McCain, the Republican nominee, might have been seventy-two years old but the age issue was waived in deference to his long-time status as a “maverick”, codeword for an anti-Bush man. If Hillary Clinton had been the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, doubtless she would have won the election by virtue of being something better than a Republican maverick—that is, a Democrat. Alas, Hillary did not bargain on the Obama’s Yes-we-can Express appearing out of nowhere and derailing her I-think-I-can-I-know-I-can climb towards the summit of glory.
Klein builds his case for designating Obama as an amateur on two fronts. First, he argues that the forty-fourth President of the United States is not so much a prophet leading his people to the Promised Land as a boy-man who campaigns like a mortal god but turns out to be a wife-dominated (not to mention Valerie Jarrett-dominated) poseur. Despite his dearth of experience as an administrator of any kind, and a paucity of legislation with his imprimatur on it during brief stopovers in the Illinois Senate and the US Senate, Obama has believed from the outset that his destiny is to be a transformative president, along the lines of (say) George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt or Franklin Roosevelt. But far from being a transformative president, insists Klein, Obama is an ineffectual executive who lacks the managerial and personal skills necessary to run a small business let alone the most powerful nation in the world.
In the more gossip-driven sections of The Amateur, Klein proffers the enmity between the White House and old-time Democratic stalwarts, from minor figures to blue-chip characters like Caroline Kennedy, as evidence of Obama’s remoteness from those outside his inner circle. Obama, as depicted in The Amateur, is the polar opposite of past Democratic presidents, which include the genuinely charismatic John Kennedy (1961–63), the garrulous Lyndon Johnson (1963–69), and the gregarious Bill Clinton (1993–2001). Away from the camera lights and his ubiquitous teleprompter, Barack Obama appears to be introverted and aloof. The impression Klein gives is of someone not interested in or comfortable around people, and yet always certain of his status as the smartest person in the room, save those occasions when he bends to the will of Michelle Obama or Valerie Jarrett, one of his senior advisers. He lacks the dexterity and nimbleness of the professional modern-day politician. Klein quotes Bill Clinton’s (alleged) August 2011 evaluation of the current White House incumbent: “Obama doesn’t know how to be president. He doesn’t know how the world works. He’s incompetent. He’s … he’s … Barack Obama is an amateur!”
The second aspect of Obama’s temperament Klein considers amateurish is the president’s ideological intransigence: “Despite the storyline people create, that he is a thoughtful, non-ideological compromiser, he has a distinct leftist ideology and can’t make a decision that takes him out of his comfort zone.” In other words, Obama does not possess the tactical flexibility of a Bill Clinton, who knew how to tack to the centre when his political viability depended upon it. There is no Dick Morris in Obama’s corner counselling him on the art of triangulation. Klein highlights Obama’s stubbornness on public healthcare policy reform as a prime example of the man’s amateur standing, noting that the crafty Emanuel Rahm “warned the president time and again that he didn’t have the votes to ram a comprehensive, single-payer healthcare bill through Congress”. Instead of settling for a sensible compromise, argues Klein, Obama was persuaded by Michelle Obama and Valerie Jarrett, along with David Axelrod, “to go for broke and side with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and her gaggle of leftwing Democrats”. Klein’s mistake, perhaps because of his Democratic or centre-Left background, is to equate an extremist agenda with amateurishness.
On the eve of the Supreme Court’s upholding the constitutionality of Obamacare, which occurred after the publication of The Amateur, Edward Klein claimed that the striking down of the Affordable Care Act would cause “grievous damage” to Obama’s administration. We now know that Justice Roberts sided with his progressive colleagues. If Obama wins in November, Obamacare will become an integral part of the American way of life. As calamitous as this new trillion-dollar burden would be for taxpaying citizens already encumbered with impossible debts and economic headwinds, the transformational potential of Obamacare cannot be disputed. Bill Clinton, who failed to deliver sweeping health care changes during his two terms of office, might snipe at the current president in private, but Obama (along with Michelle, Valerie and David, of course) is on a mission to remake America and nothing short of defeat in November will thwart that mission.
Many respectable centre-Left (and even conservative) politicians were on the far Left as young adults, and so Obama need not be censured for his incarnation as a Marxist-Leninist during his undergraduate days in California. What surprised Stanley Kurtz in his research for Radical-in-Chief (2010) was that Obama never forswore his radical sensibilities; like his good friend Bill Ayers, the Weather Underground terrorist-cum-community organiser, he concealed his extremism in the various stealth-socialist facades of the New Left. Most of Obama’s mentors appear to have worn disguises. Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf’s Chicago-based version of Zionism turns out to be anti-Israel, Derrick Bell’s “critical race theory” amounts to a thoroughgoing condemnation of the justice system in a liberal democracy, Jeremiah Wright’s curious interpretation of Christianity has more in common with black activism than personal salvation, and so on ad infinitum. Obama has been drawn to so many malcontents over the years that maybe it would be easier to identify his political influences by listing the radical thinkers he did not embrace.
A droll section in The Amateur is Klein’s interview with the indefatigable Wright. Since the dramatic moment in the last election campaign when Obama publicly renounced Reverend Wright, purveyor of black liberation theology, the consensus of the liberal-Left mainstream media has been to close the book on the subject. Klein acknowledges that a twenty-year association with the Trinity United Church of Christ does not mean Obama must answer for the entire repertoire of Wright’s vitriolic and paranoid bigotry. Wright suggests that Obama’s time at Trinity was not about religion but, rather, building “a black base” for a privileged and middle-class outsider who wanted to be an Afro-American insider. Mischievously, the now retired reverend at one point wonders out loud whether he ever managed to convert Obama “from Islam to Christianity”. There is, in fact, little evidence that Obama (or Michelle) has ever been religious in any conventional sense, although observing the reverend’s spellbinding sermons week after week must have alerted The One to the potentialities of soaring oratory. Most importantly, Jeremiah Wright’s pulpit palpitations confirmed the all-pervading New Left belief that a diseased America required a radical course of treatment.
Klein’s investigative-style journalism adroitly captures Obama’s disdain for traditional Americana. In the latter part of 2011, for instance, the radicals in the White House rode roughshod over the resident moderates on the issue of church-run hospitals and universities being compelled to provide their employees with free contraceptives. One of the moderates, White House chief of staff Bill Daley, arranged a meeting between President Obama and New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan without the knowledge of Valerie Jarrett. Obama later conveyed his displeasure at having been “put on the spot” by Dolan, who had argued that Obama’s new policy “violated the principle of religious freedom”. Jarrett, according to Klein’s sources, expressed outrage that the meeting had occurred in the first place. Klein depicts Bill Daley’s subsequent resignation in January 2012 and Obama’s “grim-faced” appearance at a press conference to announce the name of the next (and unprecedented fourth) chief of staff as a “new low, even for Barack Obama”.
Klein, the old Democrat, again conflates radical with amateur. America’s ruling troika, Barack and Michelle Obama and Valerie Jarrett, have been playing for keeps. Their “crusade to move America to the Left”, as The Amateur puts it, is no Clintonesque distraction, no smoke-and-mirrors ploy to either win over or deceive the general public. Obama happens to be a New Left man who believes each new contravention of Judeo-Christian strictures (or “bourgeois” values) brings America closer to being a genuinely fair and just society. Obviously Obama would be unimpressed by the arguments made by Archbishop Dolan, and naturally Obama is sanguine about gay marriage and thinks “folks in rural areas cling to their guns and religion”. Obama is the politician who, as a legislator in the Illinois Congress, voted against the provision of medical assistance for any foetus that survived an abortion procedure. Klein decries Obama’s leftist ideology as a “comfort zone” that precludes the President from developing into a “thoughtful, non-ideological compromiser”; but who—apart from professional dissemblers—says Obama wants to go down in history as a non-ideological compromiser?
Just as American mainstream journalists have never shown any lasting interest in Obama’s New Left connections, so too they refuse to investigate the Chicago-based cronyism that pervades the back-story of President Obama and his wife. In After America (2011), Mark Steyn wrote about the $316,962 a year Michelle earned as the manager of the “business diversity program” at the University of Chicago Medical Center before she moved into the White House. The chairman of the board that headhunted Michelle, Klein informs us, is currently the senior adviser to President Barack Obama, not to mention senior adviser to his presidential campaign. That would be one Valerie B. Jarrett. Klein adds that another member of the board hiring Michelle was Kelly R. Walsh, the executive vice-president of the Northern Trust Company, which previously “extended the Obamas a $1.3 million home mortgage”.
Thanks to the complicity of America’s mainstream media, the First Lady has been allowed to present herself as conscientious mother and loyal wife, rather than the narcissistic and imperial woman described in The Amateur:
[Michelle decided] to go on a lavish vacation to Spain in the summer of 2010, at the height of the Great Recession, even though practically her entire staff advised against it. She overruled them and flew off on an Air Force 757 along with three shifts of uniformed plainclothes agents and military personnel. Her security entourage numbered seventy people. Her vast army of support personnel checked into the Villa Padierna Palace Hotel in Marbella, a five-star resort on the Spanish Costa del Sol.
Michelle must have fumed at the charge of being a modern-day Marie Antoinette who wasted several hundred thousand dollars of American taxpayers’ money. It would not have been the wasted money accusation that irked her, of course. A myriad of decisions, including the selection of both Vice-President Joe Biden and Supreme Court Judge Sonia Sotomayer, were mostly the doing of Michelle Obama. The First Lady is no frivolous Marie Antoinette; she remains a vital component of America’s leadership triumvirate.
The personal dynamism of Barack, Michelle and Valerie has been of the highest order; their sense of entitlement is no less imposing. The Solyndra debacle tells us much about their conceit. Thanks to the direct intervention of Obama and Jarrett, Solyndra—a solar company—received a government loan of $580 million though its annual revenue had never exceeded $100 million. Solyndra subsequently went broke and the FBI is now investigating the defunct company for accounting fraud. Solyndra serves as an illustration of the futility of Obama’s 2009 “stimulus”, and also the breathtaking wastefulness of Western governments abandoning common sense and investing in “green energy” projects. But there is more:
[Valerie Jarrett has] close ties to the George Kaiser Family Foundation, which controlled 35.7 per cent of Solyndra. The foundation had made a sizeable donation to the University of Chicago Medical Center, where Jarrett once served as chairwoman and where one of Obama’s best friends, Eric Whitaker, is currently executive vice-president. Billionaire George Kaiser, one of Obama’s top 2008 campaign fundraising bundlers, visited the White House no fewer than sixteen times, and Jarrett herself met at least three times with Solyndra lobbyists, who pushed for government assistance.
Obama’s administration represents a consummation of the relationship between Crazies (Chicago’s New Left) and Criminals (Chicago’s ruthless political machine). Let the heeling of America begin.
The One, alas, would never have been satisfied with only making over America, especially with the whole planet (including the Nobel Peace Prize Committee) crying out for his curative skills. As a New Left devotee, an aficionado of seminal revisionist polemicists such as William Appleman Williams and Gar Alperovitz, Obama entered the White House knowing that the foreign policy of the United States had been the root cause of the Cold War and everything else that had gone wrong with the world since 1945. The remedy was obvious. For the nations of the world to co-exist some bowing and scraping on his part would be a good start, and then perhaps a little more American “flexibility” in his second term, as he was heard promising Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev when someone forgot to turn off the microphone. Apart from a few Al Qaeda types, the citizens of America no longer need fear foreign enemies. The West should not be concerned by the rise of the Islamists during the so-called Arab Spring; the White House remains “cautiously optimistic” about the implications of the Muslim Brotherhood’s victory in the Egyptian presidential elections.
Has there been any foreign political figure that Obama believed he could not win over with charm and reasonableness? And how has it worked out convincing Mohammed Ahmadinejad to desist with nuclear weapons capability? The White House wanted to “reset” relations with Russia, but Putin’s contempt whenever he speaks with The One is palpable. In July this year Obama assured a television audience that the anti-American machinations of Hugo Chavez, which include allowing Hezbollah a presence in Venezuela, providing a safe haven for key players in the international drug trade and developing military ties with Iran, “has not had a serious national impact” on the USA. Klein’s description of Obama’s foreign policy as “frozen in action” seems apt. Unable to throw off his New Left prejudices, the Bystander-in-Chief watches international developments drift in the direction of “a highly competitive, highly dangerous, multipolar world”.
There is one exception in all of this, and that was Barack Obama’s unrelenting pursuit of Osama bin Laden. Klein is prepared to concede that Obama’s decision in April 2011 to give the US Navy Seals the go-ahead to mount a covert operation to kill or capture bin Laden in Pakistan “was a brave act”. It is true that another motive for giving the green light was what “voters might think if they became aware he had had a chance to get Osama bin Laden and hadn’t taken it”. There is, furthermore, the reality that George W. Bush would have given exactly the same order if the opportunity arose. Nevertheless, Obama has been relentless in his sanctioning of drone missiles attacks on Al Qaeda affiliates in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and even in Yemen. We now know much about Obama’s personal involvement in these attacks thanks to the details leaked—fortuitously, shall we say?—in the lead-up to the 2012 presidential campaign.
No US president, even one with leftist sympathies such as Obama, could have come to power in the wake of September 11 without taking a hard line on Al Qaeda. Bush’s misnaming of the War on Terror, which is really a civilisational struggle between Islamism and the rest of the world, has greatly assisted Obama’s position on American security. On the one hand, Obama is free to play the role of Man of Steel and wield a “laser-like focus on Al Qaeda and its spawn”. The death of Osama bin Laden in 2011 was enough to give Obama the reputation as strong on national defence in the minds of many American voters. No wonder he and his political team played it up for all it was worth, and even questioned whether a President Romney would have had the courage of a President Obama. Just as importantly, Obama’s strong stance on violent Jihadism allows him to maintain his post-America, radical multicultural outlook. He blithely differentiates between violent Jihadism and stealth Jihadism in the manner of a consummate modern-day progressive politician. As Neville Chamberlain famously declared at Heston Aerodrome: “I believe it is peace for our time … And now I recommend you to go home and sleep quietly in your beds.”
Published before the 2012 presidential campaign was fully under way, Klein’s final chapter, “The Low Road”, anticipates the daily ad hominem attacks on the Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Team Obama has demonised Romney at every opportunity, falsely accusing him of being everything from a delinquent to a potential felon. Klein guessed what would become the essence of David Axelrod’s re-election strategy with prescience: “The stakes are too high for you to vote for that frightening Republican.” Romney has observed, not inaccurately, that the Obama campaign appears to be “utterly shameless”. Romney put this down to the Obama administration overseeing forty-one consecutive months in which the unemployment rate in the United States stood at more than 8 per cent. No doubt there is some truth in this. Klein, in keeping with the central thesis of The Amateur, predicted Team Obama’s sliming of Romney on the basis that “America was in the hands of the most left-leaning president in its history” and independent and swinging voters might desert Obama unless Romney was thoroughly defamed. There must also be an element of truth in this, and yet another point of view requires consideration.
The sophistication of the Obama presidential campaign in 2008 and again in 2012 can only be described as breathtaking. An army of political operators carefully calibrates every Obama claim and counter-claim, every new assault on the integrity of the dreaded Republican foe. This was probably always going to be the case, since those on the progressive side of politics, including Obama and his coterie, invariably believe the end justifies the means, and would never leave anything up to chance. Brimful of dangerous leftist notions he may be, but we consign a talented demagogue such as Obama to the status of amateur at our peril. However, the political reality remains that the President of the United States cannot send the country spiralling into extraordinary levels of debt on the basis of saving the economy and then fail to deliver on the promise. The 8.2 per cent unemployment rate currently plaguing the US is dramatically different from the 5.6 per cent rate for July 2012 that The One foretold three years ago. If not for the dire state of America’s economy, Obama’s victory over the highly competent and sensible Mitt Romney would have been a foregone conclusion from the start.
Daryl McCann reviewed a book on David Ben-Gurion in the July-August issue. He has a blog at http://darylmccann.blogspot.com.au.