Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Books of The Times
Presidential Horse Race, the 2008 Version

By MICHIKO KAKUTANI in The New York Times, August 10, 2009

The Story of an Extraordinary Election
By Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson
415 pages. Viking. $29.95.

Nine months after the presidential election of 2008, is there anything new or revealing to say about that momentous event? Can a post-mortem on the marathon campaign preceding that vote shed any new light on the participants or the process?

Dan Balz (left) photo by Bill O’Leary

Haynes Johnson photo (right) by Beverly Rezneck

Given the voluminous coverage of that race, it might seem as if the obvious answer to these questions were no. But “The Battle for America 2008,” a new book by Dan Balz, the lead political reporter for The Washington Post, and his former Post colleague Haynes Johnson, actually makes for engaging reading — for both politics addicts interested in small new details and the more casual reader interested in a broad, savvy overview of the run-up to a historic election.
Yes, many of the authors’ observations — about subjects as diverse as voters’ disillusion with George W. Bush and the politics of the primary calendar — have been made many times before. Yes, many of their accounts of the ups and downs of the campaign — Barack Obama’s surge in Iowa; Hillary Rodham Clinton’s comeback in New Hampshire; the long, hard slog through states like South Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania — are very, very familiar. And yes, their discussions of the issues at stake in campaign 2008, including racial politics, the Iraq war and a dangerously faltering economy, retrace well-trodden ground.

But if the authors fail to reframe the election in any significant new way, their retrospective does prove useful in reminding us — 200-plus days into the Obama presidency, as reporters point to declining approval numbers and stubborn obstacles to overhauling health care — of the daunting odds that Mr. Obama overcame to win the White House in the first place.

The authors quote Mr. Obama, then the junior senator from Illinois, as saying that he started out in 2006 giving himself “25 percent odds, you know, maybe 30” of winning it all, and the first glimpse they give us of the candidate is a snapshot of an underdog, still very much in the shadow of the front-runner, Mrs. Clinton. He is sitting aboard his modest six-seat chartered airplane on March 4, 2007, waiting to take off from Selma, Ala., after participating in ceremonies commemorating the 42nd anniversary of the voting rights march there.

As Mr. Obama’s plane waits, Mr. Balz and Mr. Johnson write, “two motorcades of black S.U.V.’s roll onto the tarmac” and stop by “two large, sleek Gulfstream jets.” Bill Clinton, accompanied by his Secret Service detail and his aides, gets into one and promptly takes off, while Mrs. Clinton and her entourage pile into the second jet.
Read the full review at NYT.
And in The Washington Post, while at The LA Times they saw it this way.

No comments: