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 Stranger. The title of the book refers to Obama’s perceived estrangement from the establishment and institutions of Washington, DC. Todd is well placed to make the assessment, as a former White House correspondent and political director for the cable news network MSNBC and current host of NBC’s Meet the Press – a storied Sunday morning talk show.
The Stranger, which begins during the transition period in late 2008 and ends on the eve of the 2014 mid-term elections, gives an account of Obama’s early legislative battles, his efforts to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and to kill Osama bin Laden), the 2012 re-election campaign, and some of the administration’s more recent stumbles. Through this history, Todd seeks to illustrate the president’s weakness as a political operator and his temperamental unsuitability to the job. Obama, Todd argues, was elected to ‘fix’ Washington – a task voters entrusted to him because of his unique story, his outsider status, and his considerable talents. In the end, however, Todd concludes that ‘the grand change Obama promised has not come to pass’.