Because of his frequent appearances on MSNBC and his left-of-center punditry, conservatives might be tempted to skip Jonathan Alter’s new book: The Promise: President Obama, Year One.
That would be a mistake, and a large one.
The Promise is a riveting though sympathetic look inside the Obama White House, and very revealing about the new president’s few strengths and many weaknesses. Alter is a fine reporter and an excellent writer, and while his political opinions do show through occasionally, most of The Promise is an unvarnished account of how the president organized –or didn’t—his first year in office, and contains a shrewd assessment of his failures as well as of his signal “success” this far, which is of course pushing the federal takeover of health care over the goal line.
Skeptical that Alter might not hit the president hard? Alter’s comment on the decision of Team Obama to flood the media zone with the president week-in and week-out: “The danger was that in becoming impossible to avoid, Obama might ‘jump the shark’ as a cultural phenomenon –cross an invisible line from hip to tiresome.”
Would the Newsweek columnist scrutinize the media's love affair with Obama? There are a few pages on the need to hide the president’s smoking addiction and other obvious examples of the MSM covering for their favorite president ever.
Alter’s assessment of Vice President Biden? An “irrepressible Labrador.”
Relations with Great Britain, Germany and especially Israel? “Obama’s great stature and his own shortcomings in showing gratitude led to claims he was taking America’s friends abroad for granted,” Alter summarizes. “This became a particular problem with Israel…The Israelis, like American Jews during the primaries simply didn’t trust Obama.”
There are also accounts of insider drama such as the shouting match between Lawrence Summers and Christina Romer (“Don’t you bully me,” the latter yells at the former,) and astonishing details on the inexperience of those called upon by the president to take huge roles in the economy, like the team assembled to “rescue” the car businesses. The account of the hostile takeover of GM and the firing by the president of the company’s CEO correctly analyzes this episode as one that cost the president dearly with an American center that saw in this power grab an ambition to run everything out of D.C.