History Buzz February 19, 2012: Douglas Brinkley Review’s Jodi Kantor’s ‘The Obamas’


History Buzz


The First Marriage ‘The Obamas,’ by Jodi Kantor

Source: NYT, 2-17-12

The Obamas…The difference when a head of state’s spouse performs an advisory role is that both the content and its consequences resonate through a lot more than one household. And that’s the point of Jodi Kantor’s new book, “The Obamas.” Call it chick nonfiction, if you will; this book is not about politics, it’s about marriage, or at least one marriage, and a notably successful one at that. This is a couple who listen to each other, and no one believes more in America’s 44th president than his wife. Last August, at a party for his 50th birthday, Kantor writes, Mrs. Obama toasted her husband for passing the health care bill, appointing two women to the Supreme Court and killing ­Osama bin Laden. When he signaled for the accolades to be toned down, she cut him off. “No, you’re just going to stand there and listen,” she snapped. “I know it makes you uncomfortable, but you only turn 50 once, so you’re just going to have to take it.” And he did.

Kantor, a Washington correspondent for The New York Times, interviewed the Obamas for a 2009 Times Magazine profile and became intensely interested in the working relationship between ­Potus and Flotus. Recognizing that most books on the Obama White Househave largely been about policy, she sensed an opening. The result is “The Obamas,” a dimly controversial palace intrigue that attempts to explain how the first couple’s marriage works. “In public, they smiled and waved,” Kantor writes, “but how were the Obamas really reacting to the White House, and how was it affecting the rest of us?” A reportorial wunderkind, she had the gumption not only to collect colorful, hard-to-come-by insider anecdotes about the Obamas, but also to venture into the dangerous terrain of psychoanalyzing the first lady. When an amateur puts the powerful on a shrink’s couch, following the example of Freud with Woodrow Wilson, the hunches about human nature had better be spot on.

Fortunately, “The Obamas”is more Sally Bedell Smith than Kitty Kelley. Kantor interviewed 33 White House officials and aides and cabinet members, to good effect. She reconstructs a half-dozen or so strange, gossipy moments that hardly hold up as serious journalism, but provide insight nonetheless. Mostly, she illuminates, in breezy prose, how the first lady sets the tone and tempo of the current White House. Kantor’s admiring portrait of Mrs. Obama, a hug really, shows a marvelous mother, an acerbic political strategist and a strong-willed spouse….READ MORE

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