Reviewed By Carol Moeller —
Although this beautifully-written and very readable book starts with his somewhat rootless early years, it quickly progresses into the Obama we all recognize as a political star: diligent Columbia undergrad, stellar Harvard law student, law school instructor, community activist, successful state senator, unsuccessful Congressional run, then successful Senate and Presidential campaigns. All of this is delivered with intimate insight into the carefully-weighed and agonizingly wrought decisions Obama made at each crossroads. It wasn’t until he references his first 100 days in office though, that the surprising parallels between then and now Biden’s first 100 days become apparent. Both took office with a change of political party administration. Both inherited disasters; Obama, the financial crash of 2008 and Biden the pandemic and teetering economy. Both overcame Republican obstructionism to address these disasters, both with the narrowest of margins.
It is in Obama’s first term in office that we become privy to the very real anguish-tinged toll that each tough decision extracts, “I didn’t like the deal. But in what was becoming a pattern, the alternatives were worse…” We see why he placed so much confidence in seemingly antithetical characters like Tim Geithner and Robert Gates. We see the racism in Republican Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” insult during his State of the Union. We understand the painful “sausage-making” that went into the eventual ACA bill. We feel Obama’s pain and chagrin at his historic midterm losses (and tremble that this might happen at Biden’s midterms). Since this is the first of a two-book series, it is in the final chapter, we feel the relief at Osama Bin Laden’s demise. Most telling is the careful and soul-wrenching judgements made during the Obama era that contrast vividly with our recent experience of the apparent absence of well thought-out choices made during Trump’s tenure.