by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
When President Barack Obama called House Speaker John Boehner, Obama’s proclivity to lecture Boehner was so predictable that the Speaker would often put down the phone, light a cigarette, and take a long draft as he waited for Obama to finish. For most readers of Obama’s new memoir, A Promised Land, the former president’s passages on policy will make you sympathize with Boehner. In the introduction to nearly every key policy addressed by his presidency, Obama unleashes multi-page lectures, winding through the history of post-Soviet Russia, the evolution of health-care policy in the United States, and the origins of the State of Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
This is not to say that the book is bad or boring. Obama is an engaging writer—or at least his collaborator, former speechwriter Cody Keenan, is—and the story, especially his rise from humble beginnings to the presidency, is fascinating. …
… Of course, the 700-page book would be shorter without the history lessons, but in a way they are part of the book’s essence: A Promised Land appears to be an honest distillation of Obama’s thoughts as he worked on the monumental policy issues of the day, and his potted history lessons, giving the standard liberal take on the issue at hand, are an important component of his thought process.
Another enlightening aspect of the book is how Obama views his allies and adversaries. Allies are often referred to in the gentlest possible terms, while opponents rarely get the benefit of the doubt. At one point, Obama dismisses an argument from the Right as having come from “the likes of Karl Rove,” without telling us what it means to be from those “likes.” At another point, his reference to his critics as backers of theories that he had “dealt drugs, worked as a gay prostitute, that I had Marxist ties, and that I had fathered multiple children out of wedlock” lumps together three crackpot theories with one legitimate allegation: Stanley Kurtz’s heavily researched work into Obama’s early socialist associations.