Shallow account of Obama’s election win

2010-04-07 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

Race of a Lifetime: How Obama Won the White House

John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

Viking

IT’S hard to know exactly how to categorise this book — political sleaze is one option. The F word is used no fewer than 65 times and other profanities abound, mainly in reported speech. Unsurprisingly it is about the mobilisation of vast sums of money to market individuals to the American public and denigrate their opponents.

Next to nothing is said about policy or context. The book is based on 200 interviews, conveniently classified as deep background which means that sources are not identified. Given the amount of reconstructed dialogue, for all we know the authors could have made it up. Whether this book occupies the ground between journalism and history, as claimed, is a ­debatable point.

What is clear is that Barack Obama could hardly have failed to win. The only real opponent was within his own party and Hillary Clinton carried too much baggage, most of it in the form of her husband, to collect widespread support. The others, Republican and Democrat, were either no-hopers or showed a remarkable talent for self- destruction. The people were ready for change and Obama was self assured enough to seize the moment. Apart from that, there is little here to suggest he is anything more than a standard-issue American politician.

American writers have a strange fascination for the trivial: how people are dressed and what they had for breakfast are favourite, irrelevant topics. So the reader reaches the end of this long book puzzled at how little has been on offer. Frustration will have been added by the use of words requiring a dictionary. Who has heard of keister, mosh pit, bloviator,­bollixed, tsuris and capacetic?

They simply add pretension to a tiresome, uninspiring text. Yet the authors are “acclaimed political reporters” from the most politicised and powerful nation in the world.

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