Comparable to the swarm of speculation touched off by 1996’s “Primary Colors,” the media is buzzing about “O: A Presidential Novel,” a new, anonymously composed work that seems to take on the Obama re-election campaign as that earlier book targeted President Clinton’s first campaign. The author’s reluctance to reveal his or her identity is a mystery that’s only fueled the furor over the book. Here’s an excerpt.
The last campaign had tested his self-control. The eighteen-hour days, the frenetic travel, the bad food, the loss of autonomy, and the silly expectations imposed on him. The ersatz patriotism. The feigned conviviality with strangers who asked him outlandish questions. Suffering the predictable whining of reporters who swooned to his message of change but were themselves averse to change. You dropped two points in a poll or said something obviously true but too blunt for ears trained to detect danger in honesty and they were at your throat. People crowding you every waking minute. Take a few days to recharge or a couple of hours to shoot some hoops or take your wife out, and you’re cocky or lackadaisical.
But he had kept it together, mostly. In private, he could become cross when mistakes occurred or when assurances proved false or when pressed to conform to campaign orthodoxies he thought stupid. But staff who had experienced his displeasure marveled at his ability to appear unbothered and focused in public. He didn’t overreact to unexpected setbacks. He never acted impulsively when surprised. Never let his instincts, which were as insistent as any politician’s, overcome his reason. Never seemed to give a s--t when reporters or griping party insiders were concerned he wasn’t hustling enough, responding to attacks quickly enough, worrying enough. He never appeared anxious over the outcome or desperate for the office. He told his story. He was different and he would make the stupid, maddening business of Washington politics different. He paid the same quiet, careful attention to his showmanship that he paid to his message. He spent prodigiously to drive up his opponent’s negatives. And he let the country come to him.
The White House had proved a bigger challenge. Staff were always orbiting him, hustling their plans and whispering their worries to one another, trying not to disturb him or take their eyes off him either. Reporters at his heels, importuning him, goading him, trying to steal his secrets, wandering in the Rose Garden, craning their necks to catch a glimpse of him behind his office drapes, with his feet on his desk and his tie loosened. Foreign leaders courted his favor and scoffed at him, lectured him, and whimpered like petulant adolescents when he treated them as heads of state rather than his new best friend. He worked and lived in a museum. He had little privacy and yet felt isolated.
In Washington all calamities, and the opportunities they offered for social progress, were absorbed by its rituals and reconstituted into scale weights in hourly recalculations of power’s dispersal, which obsessed its every constituent part. Little distinction was made between appearance and fact or the trivial and the significant. Paradoxes threatened to suffocate every initiative. Everything mattered and nothing mattered. Everything was urgent and nothing had priority. Hurry up! Not so fast! You forgot about this! You’re attempting too much! All his efforts to encourage a more reasonable governing environment were met with hostility from the opposition and indifference from his supporters, and his failures were grist for the media’s constant grind of hyperbole, conflict, and agitprop. And every day the final measure of everything was attributed to him, personally. Did he succeed or fail? Did he keep his promise or break it? Christ, was there ever a less self-reflective place? Despite universal protestations to the contrary, no one here really wanted him to change Washington, only to preside over it more successfully than the last guy had.
O had misinterpreted his mandate, one pundit after another alleged in the months preceding the midterms, hurrying to explain the seismic political reversal for Democrats the polls were predicting. Voters had given him a personal mandate, not a policy one. They trusted his promises of bipartisanship, his reasonableness to work cooperatively with Republicans and Democrats in Congress to fix the economy. They hadn’t signed on for these huge, divisive battles on health care and climate change, or the massive spending.
What a crock. I didn’t run on health care? I forgot to mention I wanted to do something about climate change? No one thought the government would have to intervene when businesses everywhere were downsizing their inventories and laying off millions and the banks wouldn’t lend money? And what if we hadn’t done it? How would they explain the country’s mood then? They’d accuse me of thinking small, squandering a mandate for change that had a short political shelf life. Here you go, Mr. President, a big, fat, catastrophic, global recession, courtesy of your predecessor, now go dig us out of it overnight, will you, by playing small ball. And remember to play nice with Republicans while you do it.
He had tried to play nice. He waited on, implored, and flattered the shrinking cohort of Republicans who had greeted his landslide by pledging their cooperation in a national emergency. They were problem solvers first, they insisted, partisans second. He listened to their ideas, pushed Democrats to accept as many of them as they could, solicited their advice, shoveled money to their constituents, invited them to the White House for the g---amn Super Bowl, and called them on their birthdays.
And what did it get me? Complaints about exceeding my mandate. I’m spending too much. I’m taxing too much. I’m destroying the finest health care system in the world, which unfortunately isn’t available to about fifty million Americans. I’m not taking them seriously as they piss themselves in terror stoked by those pompous, opportunistic multimillionaires Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, and the Ward and June Cleavers in Minuteman costumes; as they Photoshop Hitler mustaches on my picture and wait for orders from their Calamity Jane of the North, who is still too pig-in-s--t happy with her seven-figure book deals and reality TV politics to give in to their fevered desire that she lead them on a righteous crusade to take the White House from the Ivy League elitists and their enablers in the “Lamestream Media.”
The Tea Party movement. A movement? Are you kidding me? A disorganized mob of conspiracy nuts, immigrant haters, vengeful Old Testament types, publicity hustlers, and people who just have way too much time on their hands. The only thing that unites them is their sneering self-righteousness and burning hatred for me.
After the midterms, he had briefly and unhappily bowed to Washington’s expectation that he would have to find some way to cooperate with Republican leaders on something, anything, to show voters he got their message. He had to save himself, the pundits insisted. Congressional Democrats are on life support. He needs a “big government is over” moment. He’ll find an issue like Clinton did with welfare reform on which Republicans can’t refuse to work with him. Just like Clinton, right. Good old Elvis, everybody’s favorite country slicker, grabbin’ ass and cuttin’ deals, his big paw resting on the shoulders of unfortunates, whispering his sympathies and promises in their ears two minutes before he threw them to the wolves to save his own ass.
Excerpted from "O: A Presidential Novel" by Anonymous. Copyright (c) 2011. Reprinted with permission from Simon & Schuster.