I’ve finished reading my galley of Jodi’s new book. and it’s clear she has a blockbuster on her hands. I’m sure you’ve read the NYT and Huffpo accounts of Ms. Jodi Kantor’s book by now. There is so much good stuff in The Obamas that you might actually have to buy the book – butt I’ll do my best to cover the most important parts.
The book portrays Mrs. Obama as having gone through an evolution from struggle to fulfillment in her role at the White House but all the while an “unrecognized force” in pursuing the president’s goals.
The synopsis: unrecognized force meets immutable object:
Of course, most of the content getting media attention involves Lady M’s schtruggles and sacrificin’ since day one.
Let’s start at the beginning, the big move to the Big White:
As Michelle Obama realized over the summer and fall of 2008 that she was likely to become first lady, she asked a question that probably would have surprised outsiders: could she and her children delay moving to the White House? Perhaps it was better, she told aides and friends, to remain in Chicago until the end of the school year, giving her children more time to adjust, rather than coming right at the inauguration. Her notion, though short-lived, was telling: she didn’t understand or care what sort of message it would send to a public enthralled by the new first family. (Snip)
Initially, she had considered postponing her move to the White House for months; after arriving, she bristled at its confinements and obligations — unable to walk her dog without risking being photographed, and monitored by her husband’s aides for everything from how she decorated the family’s private quarters to whether she took makeup artists on overseas trips.
So there’s sacrifice number one: we moved into “the people’s house” – even though it was a fixer-upper.
Many of Lady M’s schtruggles documented in the book were with former senior staff members. The operative term here is “former.” :
New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor, in a book to be published Tuesday, portrays a White House where tensions developed between Mrs. Obama and former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and former press secretary and presidential adviser Robert Gibbs.
The book details how, through a whole bunch of sacrificin’ on Lady M’s part, she managed to get rid of all the trouble makers, one by one.
The first lady never confronted the advisers directly — that was not her way — but they found out about her displeasure from the president. “She feels as if our rudder isn’t set right,” Mr. Obama confided, according to aides.
Rahm Emanuel, then chief of staff, repeated the first lady’s criticisms to colleagues with indignation, according to three of them. Mr. Emanuel, in a brief interview, denied that he had grown frustrated with Mrs. Obama, but other advisers described a grim situation: a president whose agenda had hit the rocks, a first lady who disapproved of the turn the White House had taken, and a chief of staff who chafed against her influence.
Indeed, she didn’t confront the advisors, as “that was not her way.” Lady M has spent many years cultivating the more traditional passive aggressive hit job. So she brought Valarie along to do the dirty work.
Lady M never approved of Big Guy’s pick of Rhambo as Chief of Staff in the first place and grew even less enamored as time went by.
Perhaps the greatest point of friction between Michelle Obama and Rahm Emanuel involved the push for health care reform...the first lady was skeptical of, if not outright opposed to, the backroom deals being cut to advance the legislation, wary that it would tarnish an image her husband had worked years to build. But the president, "his competitive juices stoked and his most important initiative on the line, did not halt his chief of staff's horse trading," writes Kantor.
When the whole enterprise seemed to have fallen apart, following the election of Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, a Republican, the first lady was furious. Instead of letting her husband down easy, which top staff hoped she would do, she lit into him.
"She feels as if our rudder isn't set right," the president told his aides. "They had the sense that was not the actual language she had used."
Hee. I can assure you that “was not the actual language she had used.”
Kantor…reports that Michelle Obama had "doubts" about the choice of Emanuel as chief of staff. Emanuel, in turn, had been opposed to bringing Valerie Jarrett, the Obamas' longtime mentor, into the White House as a senior adviser.
"Michelle and Rahm Emanuel had almost no bond; their relationship was distant and awkward from the beginning. She had been skeptical of him when he was selected, and now he returned the favor; he was uneasy about first ladies in general, several aides close to him said, based on clashes with Hillary Clinton in the 1990s that became so severe that she had tried to fire him from her husband's administration," writes Kantor. "Now Emanuel was chief of staff, a position that almost never included an easy relationship with the first lady. They were the president's two spouses, in a sense, one public and official and one private and informal."
As you know, spouse number Won won. Not surprisingly, Rhambo was the first one under the bus headed back to Chicago.
And Bobby Gibbs wasn’t a whole lot higher on her totem pole, even though he usually reported the news the way she wanted to have it told.
The tug of war between Michelle Obama and Rahm Emanuel for the president's spiritual or political soul contributed to a White House that was far more disorganized and friction-filled than the public perception holds. Kantor reports that then-White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was often deployed to push back against the first lady, informing her that she couldn't take a private vacation on a state visit, spend large amounts on White House redecoration, or buy expensive clothes.
Mo used Val-Jar to set Bobby up, and like the political rookie he was, he took the bait. When Val-Jar reported that Lady M was not happy with the way Bobby handled the charge from the French press that Lady M told Carla that it “was hell” living in the Big White, and she hated it (of course we officially denied ever having said that) he went postal.
“That’s not right, I’ve been killing myself on this, where’s this coming from?” Mr. Gibbs yelled, adding expletives. He interrogated Ms. Jarrett, whose calm only seemed to frustrate him more. The two went back and forth, Ms. Jarrett unruffled, Mr. Gibbs shaking with rage. Finally, several staff members said, Mr. Gibbs cursed the first lady — colleagues stared down at the table, shocked — and stormed out.
He was the next one under the bus headed west for Chicago.
Of course, you already know all about Desi’s short lived tenure in the Big White. While she “arrived in Washington to great fanfare, much of it her own making” it didn’t take her long to make enemies. So her departure came as no surprise, and it had less to do with her botched party throwing skills
…and more to do with making Lady M look bad, both by correcting her in public…
Yet for someone with such a pitch-perfect sense of style and taste, she displayed startling levels of tone-deafness at times. At an event in the White House kitchen with students from L’Academie de Cuisine, Rogers openly corrected Michelle Obama on the name of a china pattern.
and making her butt look big:
Butt let’s face it, nobody felt bad about Desi getting thrown under the Chicago-bound bus.
Only the born-political animal, David Axelrod, managed to leave under his own terms, which included maintaining all his power and influence in return for getting Lady M and Big Guy reelected. Take note political neophytes: to be successful you must learn to be very circumspect in your speech:
“She has very much got his back,” said David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s longtime strategist, in an interview. “When she thinks things have been mishandled or when things are off the track,” he continued, “she’ll raise it, because she’s hugely invested in him and has a sense of how hard he’s working, and wants to make sure everybody is doing their work properly.”
while still being willing to say anything. In fact, if you just focus on that last part, you should be golden. Just ask any political hack worth their salt.
A White House “Alice in Wonderland” costume ball — put on by Johnny Depp and Hollywood director Tim Burton — proved to be a Mad-as-a-Hatter idea that was never made public for fear of a political backlash during hard economic times, according to a new tell-all.
“White House officials were so nervous about how a splashy, Hollywood-esque party would look to jobless Americans — or their representatives in Congress, who would soon vote on health care — that the event was not discussed publicly and Burton’s and Depp’s contributions went unacknowledged,” the book says.
However, the White House made certain that more humble Halloween festivities earlier that day — for thousands of Washington-area schoolkids — were well reported by the press corps
You probably remember my coverage of the event at the time. Butt even I was banned from reporting on the private party in the dining room, decorated in a creepy Alice in Wonderland theme.
You may recall, I did post pictures of the Wons in their costumes a bit later.
I would just ask you to keep in mind that - although it may have been just a wee bit over the top at a time when unemployment was (officially) at 10% – it was, after all, just a tea party!
Sheeze – a lot of people who saw that the country was sliding further and further into the rabbit hole were holding tea parties of their own all around town at the same time.
There’s a lot more in Jodi’s book. Butt even I have had enough for one day. I will give you the Shakespearean version at a later date.