Those who expected a novel loosely based on Barack Obama’s re-election to be a puff piece should look away now. O – A
Presidential Novel is a refreshingly cynical look inside the Obama White House by an anonymous someone who claims to have seen the President live and work at close hand.
Like Primary Colours with Clinton, the novel never attempts to disguise who “O” might be. And, like the West Wing, it is an irreverent and witty take on an ideal
Washington world, following the ups and downs of compelling characters from across the spectrum. From lobbyists, hungry journalists to rich donors, O takes a peek at every level behind the
scenes from 2011 to Election Day 2012. But there is more. The anonymous author is less than flattering, and at times scathing, about Obama and the system he tried, but ultimately failed, to change.
The bar is not set particularly high. We are introduced to the inspirational leader. He is deep in thought – not about policy, but about how he is going to tell his aides that he is going
golfing, again, at the weekend.
It’s a cutting start and the critique develops a sophistication beyond “when the going gets tough, the President goes golfing.” For all the hype, for the hope and change, the
novel reveals the strategic decisions behind the image:
“The risk taking side of the President’s personality was less audacious than assumed. O acted boldly when he perceived few disadvantages to doing so, when failure would pose no
more than a temporary inconvenience.”
So much for the “audacity of hope”. As the novel progresses, the President becomes crippled by indecision. “There were moments when he was uncertain of how to proceed, when the
politics of an issue looked dangerous no matter which decision he made.” The reader is left questioning what a candidate for high office was expecting; those looking for President Bartlet’s
strong resolve and clear leadership will not find it in the less than mythical “O”. Perhaps that is the one of the more reticent points being made: the dream is real.
Obama’s election was about much more than Obama. After the sugar-rush of the campaign, Americans had to realise that behind promises of hope and change was a man, and not necessarily the best
man for the job.
The author’s anonymity is enough to distract the more politically astute reader, especially given the savage recreations of Ariana Huffington and Rahm Emmanuel, and a stark coldness toward
the First Lady. Through the views of his opponents, the press and his most trusted friends and advisers, the author concludes that Obama has made mistakes, tried too much. He almost puts out a
coded warning of what the Democrats should not do in the next two years if they want Obama’s still, right now, inevitable re-election to be a smooth one.
There is one rather ironic moment where the President’s Republican opponent is prepping for his own campaign and “…read a half dozen campaign books, which he had expected to read like
after-action reports but which proved to be gossipy insider accounts that were mostly the collected grievance, conceits, score settling, blame shifting, and credit taking of the campaign
staffers…” O may be a novel, but it is certainly one of those books. Far from dismissing it, any Republican thinking about throwing his hat into the ring should have their research
teams learn O by heart.
While hugely entertaining, if the author is as connected as the press are making out, this is a glimpse into an administration’s history like no other.
Harry Cole is the News Editor at the Guido Fawkes blog.