Revival: The White House Book

Revival picked up where Renegade left off. It was meant to answer the nagging questions that followed the epic election of 2008: what next?

How could the team that was so exceptional at campaigning run into such exceptional difficulties in government?

I spent two months closely tracking the life of a young presidency through the near-death and swift recovery of the most sweeping – and controversial – legislation of the Obama era: health care reform.

What I witnessed was a desperate struggle for survival that stands as the measure of the president and his first White House team: of who they were and how they governed.

But what struck me most was the deep division inside Obama’s inner circle.

Every White House has its schism. There were the doves and the hawks of the Bush years, and the liberals and centrists of the Clinton years.

Inside Obama’s West Wing the division was not really ideological; it was about the spirit of the 2008 campaign itself.

There was the group of Revivalists, who wanted to return to the ideals and approach of the insurgent candidate; the outsider who would bring change to Washington. And there was the group of Survivalists, who wanted to cut the insider deals to save themselves and their boss.

At the heart of the struggle was a president who wanted to have it both ways.

The pattern of Obama’s political fortunes has continued through his years in office: the giant pendulum swings from failure to success and back again, the internal strife over the president’s real purpose and character.

When Revival was published, soon after the shellacking of the mid-term elections in 2010, some critics said the book was clearly a mistake because there was never going to be a revival for Obama.

Well, that wasn’t the argument the book was trying to make.

Besides, two weeks later, Obama was undergoing one of his many revivals as he headed into a lame duck session that ended Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, ratified a new nuclear treaty with Russia, and cut a big budget deal with the GOP, delivering far more to progressive priorities than conservative ones.

Renegade was a far easier book to write, since it followed a simple path towards the historic triumph of an election.

Revival was the result of a much more in-depth inquiry into a far more opaque story, hidden behind the black iron gates of the White House. It was a roadmap to understanding the Obama White House in its first term, and remains so today.

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