The Amateur: Barack Obama in the White House
Edward Klein's new book on Barack Obama, The Amateur: Barack Obama in the White House, is a withering portrayal of a radical adrift, in over his head, drowning in his own incompetency -- while being weighed down by a small circle of "advisers" who are compounding the problem of the Amateur in the White House.
Klein's book begins with a talisman-like quote uttered by Barack Obama when his recently appointed Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner tried to boost Obama's ego by telling him, "Your legacy is going to be preventing the second Great Depression." To which Barack Obama responded, "That's not enough for me."
As all of America knows by now, Obama has aggressively sought to "fundamentally transform" America -- one of the few promises he has kept from the days of 2008. Five trillion dollars of borrowing, ObamaCare passed over the objections of the majority of Americans through legislative legerdemain and special deals made with resistant politicians, failed stimulus, green programs failing left and right as taxpayers are left holding the bag, a recovery that is the most anemic on record, an America that has been sundered by the man who promises to unite us, America weaker abroad and at home -- yes, America has been fundamentally transformed. Mission Accomplished.
But how and why did Obama succeed in such a catastrophic way? That is the question that Klein successfully answers in his extremely readable and enjoyable book, with enough spicy details to satisfy the craving of anyone interested in how President Obama and those closest to him have driven us to the condition we find ourselves in as we approach November.
One of the motifs that runs throughout the book is Barack Obama's sheer level of incompetency. He has the fatal conceit of many politicians: an overweening ego. That may be a prerequisite for politicians and leaders, but when it is unleavened by a willingness to consider the views of others, it becomes a fatal conceit. And Obama has that trait in abundance.
Stories tumble out that reveal a man who believes he is all but omniscient -- unwilling to give any credence to the views of others (especially but not limited to those across the aisle). Experts in management are interviewed who point out that he lacks essential qualities of leadership. Indeed, the book gets its title from an outburst from Bill Clinton, who was trying to encourage Hillary to take on Obama in the Democratic primary of 2012:
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's an amateur.
But Klein does not rest there. He delves into associates from Obama's career in Cook County politics, his stint as a state senator, and his rise to the United States Senate. There is a common pattern: Obama likes to campaign, but once he is elected and actually starts working, his interest flags, and he starts looking for the next "big thing" -- electorally speaking. He had few if any accomplishments or professional standing in any of his previous positions. Even when he served as a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, he avoided any encounters with other faculty who enjoyed discussing the law. His reluctance to engage them is revealing in and of itself, suggesting he had a reason for his lack of confidence.
His disdain toward working with others is manifest. He has gained a reputation over the last few years as being cold and distant, refusing to engage, as have other presidents, in the give-and-take of politics, in the social niceties that help grease the wheels in Washington. Liberal Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen recently advised him to read Robert Caro's newest volume on the life of Lyndon Johnson as a primer on how to be president. Johnson, of course, was a master at pulling levers of power, but he also knew how to persuade individual politicians on both sides of the aisle to work with him on legislation. But, of course, LBJ also had the common touch and, having risen from humble beginnings, never considered it beneath him to work with those underneath him. Not so Barack Obama. He complained to foreign leaders that he had to waste time talking with "congressmen from Palookaville." At another time, he switched locales and said he was tired of dealing with people from "Podunk."
His campaign trail comments regarding small-town America as being populated by "bitter" people who cling to guns and Bibles was not a one-off. They are reflective of his views.
But the high and the mighty also come in for the Obama treatment. Klein reveals dismay among former Obama supporters who feel they have been mistreated, maligned, and thrown under the bus. Obama's most generous early donors have been all but ignored; early mentors in the black business community have been sidelined if not completely ditched; people don't hear from him or his staff unless a fundraiser is coming up. But there is more: Caroline Kennedy is angry at the way she and her family were used for campaign purposes in 2008 and then summarily dismissed and stored away like so many movie props have been (the latter is my description).
Even Oprah Winfrey has been stiff-armed by the Obamas. According to the book, Oprah took a big risk in supporting Obama in 2008 and campaigning for Obama in Iowa, being a big boost in his campaign. The ratings for her show weakened significantly (and her new network has been a huge disappointment). But when she has tried to visit the White House, she has been all but treated as persona non grata. Apparently, Michelle Obama is a possessive person who fears the influence Oprah may have over Barack Obama (more on this below). Oprah blames it on Michelle's anti-obesity campaign. She is quoted as saying, "Michelle hates fat people and doesn't want me waddling around the White House." Klein digs up a quotation of Michelle Obama's from a White House source that seems to confirm Oprah's suspicion:
Oprah only wants to cash in using the White House as a backdrop for her show to perk up ratings. Oprah with her yo-yo dieting and huge girth, is a terrible role model. Kids will look at Oprah, who's rich and famous and huge, and figure it's okay to be fat.
Oprah, Caroline Kennedy, Pastor Jeremiah Wright (who merits a chapter), and Obama's former long-time doctor (who feels Obama is distant and lacks feeling, passion, and humanity) all join a long list of people whom the Obamas have used, abused, and then cast aside once they moved into the White House.
A few have survived the winnowing process, of course. There is Michelle, who might be described as the living and real-life descendant of Lady Macbeth. The book provides some history of the early days between Barack and Michelle: marked by some tempests, yet also marked by Michelle's overwhelming push for Barack to win power and wealth. Insiders are reluctant to tangle with the First Lady, and with good reason. Michelle, like her husband, has a proclivity to blame others for her husband's failures. Former Press Secretary Robert Gibbs felt her sting when it was revealed that Michelle had complained about life in the White House to the then-first lady of France, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. Gibbs acted to control the damage by arranging for the Élysée Palace to issue a denial.
But the response did not come quickly enough for Michelle, and she arranged for Valerie Jarrett -- close to the Obamas for years, and who has an omnipresence in the White House that makes the unelected and unconfirmed czar issue seem trivial -- to deliver a stern rebuke to Gibbs, who counter-attacked. Anyone heard from Robert Gibbs lately?
The role of Valerie Jarrett has prompted much speculation. As Edward Klein notes, she has a mouthful of a title -- senior adviser and assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs and public engagement -- that "doesn't begin to do justice to her unrivaled status in the White House." Valerie Jarrett apparently has a role in most major decisions: she often appears in meetings the president has with major political leaders from Capitol Hill and with foreign leaders as well. She often stays behind to have private discussions with the president. Obama admitted that he ran every decision by her.
That is worrying since, as Klein notes, Jarrett's own career is not one that would prepare her to assume such a prominent role. Hers is no rags-to-riches story that would give her the "chops" to have such a Svengali-like influence over the president of the United States. She was blessed with a wonderful set of advantages -- descended from a highly regarded political family in Chicago. Jarrett was a force to be reckoned with in the Daley administration and then capitalized on her political connections to land a job heading up a real estate company in Chicago where she oversaw, among other developments, properties that under her company's management degenerated into slums. Business leaders are aghast that she has such a powerful role in the White House. A donor is quoted as saying that not only is Valerie Jarrett a liability, but others in the White House concur with his views. Jarrett has butted heads with Rahm Emanuel, who felt that it was wrong to focus on passing ObamaCare when the economy and jobs should have been higher priorities.
Who won that match? Rahm returned to Chicago and became mayor in 2009.
The roles of Michelle Obama and Valerie Jarrett cannot be overstated. They are symptomatic of a larger problem in the White House decision-making process (one that I noted in "How Obama Makes Decisions").
Barack Obama, to a greater extent than any modern president, refuses to listen to the views of others or consult with experts and advisers outside his own tight and constricted circle from Cook County. There are many revelations of his faulty decision making uncovered by Klein. Indeed, one of Jarrett's roles is to shield Obama from dealing with people who don't agree with him or who may say something that deflates his ego.
When Bill Daley (the chief of staff) realized that the contraception and abortifacient mandates of ObamaCare might offend Catholics, he arranged a meeting without Jarrett's knowledge between Obama and New York then-Archbishop Timothy Dolan to deal with an issue that would offend many as violating the principle of religious freedom (as well as Catholic beliefs). Jarrett went to the president and vented her anger.
Anyone seen Bill Daley lately?
On issue after issue, President Obama remains his insular self, refusing to seek counsel or input from others with more experience.
Critics believe he has made a mess of foreign policy precisely because not only does he have a dearth of experience in this area, but because, under our system, foreign policy is one of the few areas where a president enjoys almost unlimited power. Thus, he is free to formulate his own agenda regardless of the views of others and the damage these policies cause.
When pro-Israel Americans met with Obama to discuss his actions toward Israel (that many, including myself, view as being counterproductive) he dismissed the ideas of Abe Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, with the statement "you are absolutely wrong." The president, who has no compunction telling people that they are not only wrong, but "absolutely wrong" in public, needs to start feeling some of the empathy he accuses Republicans of lacking. According to veteran journalist Richard Chesnoff, quoted in the book, "Obama's problem in dealing with the Arab-Israeli conundrum" comes "from his one-man style and his inflated view of his own leadership talents[.] ... [P]erhaps, even more egregiously, he seems to have an exaggerated sense of his own depth of understanding of the Middle East, which is simply not borne out by his background or experience." There may be more to it than that to explain the pressure he has put on our one true ally in the Middle East, Israel. American Thinker published numerous articles in 2008 covering not only Pastor Jeremiah Wright, Junior's views of Israel as an apartheid state, but Obama's associations with anti-Israel Palestinians in Chicago, his own suspect language regarding Israel, and his close relationship with Samantha Power (now playing a key role on his National Security Council), who not only has a long anti-Israel history but also made an anti-Semitic remark that was smothered by the media in 2008. There were good reasons for the Los Angeles Times to run a column during the campaign that "Allies of Palestinians see a friend in Obama."
Readers will thoroughly enjoy Klein's book on Obama. There are substantive issues raised about Obama's leadership abilities that are enhanced with interesting digressions regarding life inside ObamaWorld and how those dynamics effect decisions made from the Oval Office.
Klein concludes the book with doubt that Obama could ever change his approach toward governing and suspicion that his agenda is to impose a vast redistribution scheme upon America that has worked so well in the decaying and disintegrating European Union. He wonders if Republicans are up to the task of pointing out to the public the truth about Obama's agenda, given the overwhelming media bias in favor of Barack Obama.
Klein's book could serve as a roadmap for Republicans.
Ed Lasky is news editor of American Thinker.