THE AMATEUR: BARACK OBAMA IN THE WHITE HOUSE
By Edward Klein
Regnery, $27.95, 261 pages
Reviewed by Ray Hartwell
Edward Klein is a journalist with impressive credentials, including editorial stints at the New York Times Magazine, Newsweekand Vanity Fair. His new book, "The Amateur: Barack Obama in the White House," debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times' best-seller list. By that and other measures its sales are reported to be robust nationwide.
Clearly there is much curiosity about our president, a thirst for information apparently not sated by our national media's decision-making about which news is fit to print. Mr. Klein's book is intended to get beyond what he describes as the prevailing journalistic practice of "coming up with fresh examples of [Obama's] divinity." He rightly notes that "the media elevated Obama above the common herd and never properly vetted him."
Mr. Klein has interviewed "nearly two hundred people, both inside and outside the White House." Whether positive or negative on President Obama, he says, "the stories they told ... had a remarkable consistency." Because the president's "advisers have gone to elaborate lengths to hide his dark side," Mr. Klein launched his investigation in Chicago, "where Obama first donned his disguise as an ideological wolf in sheep's clothing."
The book owes its title to a remark ostensibly made by former President Clinton as he pressed his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Rodney Clinton, to challenge Mr. Obama for the 2012 Democratic presidential nomination. Mr. Klein's sources are identified as Clinton family friends who heard the exchange firsthand. As the tale goes, the former president summed up his argument on one occasion with the punch line, "Barack Obama is an amateur!"
Here and elsewhere, Mr. Klein takes the classic approach of the "tell all" expose. Most administrations leave a trail of folks willing to share their recollections for one reason or another. The author has interviewed many, as a good reporter should, and, as a good reporter must, he respects the confidentiality of sources who have talked only on the condition of anonymity. That, of course, opens him to accusations of excessive creativity. Most notably, Mr. Clinton has denied that the conversation mentioned above ever occurred. Readers will have their own reactions.
Among the revelations that gained the book early attention is a statement attributed to the president's longtime minister and confidant, Jeremiah Wright, that in 2008 he was offered $150,000 "not to preach until after the November election." We also learn of the Obama team's rude treatment of Oprah Winfrey, Caroline Kennedy and other supporters, not to mention Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.
Mr. Klein also provides anecdotal evidence that Mr. Obama has little interest in compromise, is a leftist ideologue and is narcissistic and thin-skinned in the extreme. Mr. and Mrs. Obama "share a sense of entitlement, [and] a contempt for the political process." Michelle Obama is "further to the left ... than her husband," and "that's saying a lot."
Throughout, Mr. Klein's thesis is that our president is a rank amateur, starkly unqualified. As he puts it, "judged by the skillet that is necessary for the chief executive ... Obama is the Bungler-in-Chief." To win re-election, Mr. Klein posits, Mr. Obama "must divert the country's attention from his record of incompetence and amateurism."
Yet readers may not be persuaded that Mr. Obama is an amateur. After all, this president has successfully taken over the health care sector of our economy, enacted unprecedented control over banks and financial institutions, taken control of all student loans, seized two domestic auto manufacturers, throttled domestic energy production and enriched cronies and campaign contributors via a variety of subsidy schemes such as Solyndra. Along the way, he has championed unprecedented dependency on government handouts and added a trillion dollars-plus every year to our national debt, while doing harm to our relationships with friends and allies abroad.
Moreover, the author's conclusions concerning Mr. Obama's character and ideology deserve greater attention than he gives them. Mr. Klein tells us he "concluded that Obama is actually in revolt against the values of the society he was elected to lead." This may explain a great deal of what Mr. Klein attributes to amateurism.
Although it is well written and brimming with observations attributed to many who've seen our president at close range, most of the information in "The Amateur" is not "new" news, even if it has been underreported. Nonetheless, for those who've not followed this president and his most trusted associates closely, the book will be worth reading.
Ray Hartwell is a Navy veteran and a Washington lawyer.
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