Everything is yours, Mr. President. Those are the words Obama longs to hear – and those are the words he’s longed to hear his entire career. Kantor briefly traces his political rise – carefully avoiding mention of his dubious relationships with Jeremiah Wright or Tony Rezko or Bill Ayers – portraying him as an idealist among idealists, a naïve Mr. Smith Goes to Washington type who wanted to be a non-politician politician.
But, of course, the truth is somewhat less noble. Obama comes across in the book as profoundly power-hungry – he couldn’t get anything done as a State Senator, so he moved on to the Senate; he couldn’t get anything done in the Senate, so he moved on to the presidency.
He’s frustrated with the presidency, too. “When Obama reflected privately on the presidency that fall, he often spoke about the limitations of the office,” Kantor reports about Obama’s first autumn in the White House. He was suffering from a “dawning sense of political powerlessness.” This is the highest form of egotism known to man. The president of the United States is the most powerful individual on earth. He does not get to complain about his lack of power. No wonder Obama has publicly mused about the beauties of the Chinese system – the only step up from the presidency is monarchy or dictatorship.
In China, the dictators need brook no criticism. And Obama can’t stand criticism. In another fascinating tidbit, Obama’s friend Christopher Edley, dean of UC Berkeley Law School, recommended via email that Obama not pick Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff the day after the election. “Soon after he sent the note,” says Kantor, “the phone rang. It was Jarrett, warning Edley of a very angry phone call to come. ‘Why would you do this today, of all days?’ Obama demanded of Edley. He wanted to savor his moment of victory free of all criticism, Edley concluded; he did not have much tolerance for seeing his judgment doubted. The old friends never spoke again.”
Obama has carried that petulant attitude forward. We have now seen it on the public stage, day after day — a man exorcising his personal demons by bullying and whining his way through his presidency, blaming his political enemies and the American public for all his woes. It is not pretty. And looking behind the scenes with Jodi Kantor is even uglier still.
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