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Barack Obama

Beginning just as the Cold War finally came to an end, the 1990s were supposed to bring peace, prosperity, and optimism to the United States. Thinking about all that has happened since – the 9/11 attacks, interminable wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the global financial crisis, violent unrest and democratic institutions under threat – it is tempting to look back on the decade as a short-lived golden age. But there has been a growing recognition among scholars and commentators that the roots of America’s contemporary woes can be found in the dark undercurrents of the fin de siècle. Strong economic growth and rapid technological advances had masked growing discontent and rage about inequality, immigration, and globalisation.

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Since crossing paths nearly two decades ago, Barack Obama and Joe Biden have forged one of the more potent partnerships in modern American politics – winning three of the last four presidential elections between them – and have built an enduring friendship. It is all the more remarkable for its rarity. The pressures of the White House, overlapping ambitions, and competing loyalties have soured the relationship between most presidents and their deputies (think of Richard Nixon’s notorious bitterness towards Dwight Eisenhower or the froideur between Al Gore and Bill Clinton). 

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Barack Obama has written the best presidential memoir since Ulysses S. Grant in 1885, and since Grant’s was mostly an account of his pre-presidential, Civil War generalship – written at speed, to stave off penury for his family, as he was dying of throat cancer – Obama’s lays some claim to being the greatest, at least so far. This first volume (of two) only reaches the third of his eight years in the White House.

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The World As It Is: Inside the Obama White House by Ben Rhodes & Yes We (Still) Can: Politics in the age of Obama, Twitter, and Trump by Dan Pfeiffer

January-February 2019, no. 408

Gareth Evans diagnosed the affliction of leaving government as relevance deprivation syndrome. For those who worked in the Obama administration, leaving the White House must have presented deeper maladies: the bewildering success of a reviled political opponent and a profound sense of missed opportunities. Two recently released memoirs by former Obama staffers grapple with this reality in very different ways.

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Audacity by Jonathan Chait & We Are The Change We Seek edited by E.J. Dionne Jr and Joy-Ann Reid

June-July 2017, no. 392

What is Barack Obama’s legacy? That deceptively simple question forms the subject of Jonathan Chait’s new book ...

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It is sometimes easy to forget that Barack Obama ascended from the Illinois state senate to the presidency of the United States in just over four years. It was a steep rise – exhilarating and unprecedented. Since assuming office in January 2009, the road has been rockier, and it is Obama’s seven years in office that form the subject of Chuck Todd’s The Stra ...

‘There’s a greater problem here. This is a president who won’t proudly proclaim American exceptionalism, maybe the first president ever who truly doesn’t believe in that … Look at his foreign policy. Doesn’t believe [in] America as a force for good, it doesn’t seem. Seems like instead, he believes in multilateralism as a goal, not a tactic. He allows f ...

November in America signals a time to gather in, take stock and breathe a little. The elections are done by the end of the first week. Thanksgiving beckons, the high holidays begin, media fever subsides – a little – and morphs into retrospective political analysis and projected anxiety about the future, especially, since 2008, the economic future.

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Tariq Ali, proclaims the Guardian, ‘has been a leading figure of the international left since the 60s’. If his latest book is the best the left can muster, I fear that its chances of influencing political debate are minimal – and, even worse, undesirable.

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Immediately after the mid-term elections in November, Barack Obama left for a long-planned G20 gathering in Seoul and for meetings with heads of government in the nation states of India, Indonesia, and Japan. Nothing remarkable, you think? Exactly what one expects a United States president to do? Not in America.

The right-wing blogosphere went berserk. Miche ...

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