Having assessed these remarks—so typical of Obama’s contrived manifestation of effortlessness in all that he does—Wolffe writes of the candidate’s “obvious ambivalence” about losing to Clinton, describing him as “nonchalant about defeat.” Of course. A politician who rose from state senator to President of the United States in just four years is “ambivalent” and “nonchalant” about his career.
Defending himself, Wolffe told Politico that “there’s a whole chapter of the book called ‘Failure.’ This isn’t an authorized book [where] they controlled what I wrote or sought to control it.” But the chapter to which Wolffe refers is a reportorial account of how Obama lost the New Hampshire primary—a pivotal moment, which anyone writing a 334-page book about the campaign could hardly avoid describing. And if all this access came with no strings attached—and there’s no reason to doubt that—then Wolffe’s fawning is all the more pathetic. On page nine he has this to say about the atmosphere on Obama’s campaign plane: “There is an unbearable lightness of being.” Yes, he actually wrote that. No, it has nothing to do with aeronautics.
To be sure, Wolffe did get a few good tidbits. For instance, he breaks the news that Obama held a secret meeting during the campaign with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright in Chicago (though he offers precious few details on what transpired). In a later chapter on the transition, he reports that Rahm Emanuel was “unsettled by [Valerie Jarrett’s] personal relationship with the Obamas and wanted her outside the White House” (again, an intriguing factoid that calls out for deeper reporting). And, no doubt unintentionally, he occasionally captures Obama’s enormous self-regard in a way that only an oblivious fan could possibly manage.
As for Obama’s negative attributes—well, Wolffe doesn’t have much time for those. Discussing the candidate’s cynical decision to opt out of the public financing system, the most he can muster is that Obama’s “argument was not based on fairness; it was based on effectiveness.” In other words, he buys wholesale into the campaign’s excuse that they needed to prepare for the inevitable onslaught of Republican dirty tricks. Wolffe spends an entire paragraph defending the ostentatious Greek-temple display of columns that the Democrats constructed for Obama’s anointment in Denver. And Obama’s utter lack of foreign policy experience? “In some ways the candidate possessed a thin Washington resume in foreign affairs,” he concedes. In some ways?
Still don’t believe that Wolffe is in the tank for Obama? Just take a look at the Acknowledgements. There, he thanks the “O-Team,” which consists of Michelle Obama, David Axelrod, Robert Gibbs, and a variety of other aides. First among his “surrogate family at MSNBC,” whom he applauds for “your talent and courage, your good humor and support,” is Keith Olbermann. (During the campaign, Wolffe made regular appearances on “Countdown,” playing Stepin Fechit to the bullying host.) He refers to Maureen Dowd as “our very own Dorothy Parker in red cowboy boots.” Wolffe has every right to thank whomever he wants. But let’s just say that political writers trying to avoid the accusation of partisanship are usually not this indiscreet.
Recounting an early discussion with Obama about whether he should write Renegade, Wolffe recalls his reservations about the project: “It’s very hard to write something after the election. Besides, I said, publishers want partisan screeds nowadays. They don’t want reporting.” Richard Wolffe gave his publishers what they wanted. If only he had followed his initial instinct and never written this embarrassing book.