While we, the general public, typically see the calm, cool, and collected President Obama on all the TV stations, we tend to forget that there are times when the most powerful man in the world and his entourage get frustrated, desperate, and confrontational. The Promise is an insider’s account of the campaign, election, and first year of President Barack Obama’s first term. The author, Jonathan Alter, uses his unique access to tell the stories behind some of the new President’s highs and lows. From candidate Obama breaking up a fight between Finance Committee Chairman Barney Frank and Bush Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to Joe Biden’s gleeful profanity being caught on a hot mic after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the author does a great job of detailing the inner workings of the executive and legislative branch.
One of the most important things the book did for me personally was remind me that President Obama had some huge legislative victories before Obamacare, which tends to overshadow almost every other achievement of his first term. I also enjoyed the focus put on the role of Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff, who was willing to ignore his own gut instinct in order to accomplish his boss’ goal of health care reform. A third aspect that stuck out to me was the inner drama that took place within the bureaucracy, such as Hillary Clinton swallowing her pride as secretary of state and the unseen arguments between the Pentagon and the White House on the debacle in Afghanistan.
While there were some lulls as far as action, the book as a whole is a learning experience, especially in the workings of the bureaucracy and what it takes to get things done in Washington. I learned a lot about the difficulties of whipping votes and the congressional process of getting something for their own district, as in the case of Ben Nelson’s infamous “Cornhusker Kickback” on the Affordable Care Act. If those two things don’t at all sound interesting to you, this probably isn’t the book for you. If the topic interested you but you don’t have much background knowledge, I’d recommend learning a little about the inner workings of Washington or at least having Google handy while you read. If you have a great interest in the political process, I would definitely recommend this book, especially if you have a great admiration for President Obama’s legislative agenda and achievements.