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The Amateur

All invective, little content


The Amateur by Edward Klein is a book about an inept, arrogant ideologue who maintains an absurdly high opinion of his own talents even as he blatantly fails to achieve his goals. Oh, and President Obama is in this book too.
Of course Klein does not see himself as the amateur of his title. As he announces in the very first sentence, "This is a reporter's book. " It is based on "dozens of four-inch-thick three-ring notebooks" that detail interviews with "nearly 200 people, " some of whom even allowed Klein to mention their names in print.

And it is written by a man with journalistic credentials. Klein was editor of The New York Times Magazine from 1977 to 1987, although that won't get him far with his target audience of readers looking for reasons to feel contempt for the president. He parlayed his familiarity with members of the Kennedy family into a string of maudlin books about them.

The Amateur churns up. Although President Obama and his advisers have, as Klein so peculiarly puts it, "gone to elaborate lengths to hide his dark side, " they could not deter this seasoned pro. "I have learned as a journalist that if you look long enough and hard enough and carefully enough, most truths are discoverable, " he writes. The Rev Jeremiah Wright asserted to Klein that during the last presidential election he was offered a bribe by the Obama camp, a payoff to stop speaking in public. Wright also says that even when Obama made this request directly, he would not cooperate. Among the reasons: he had speaking engagements scheduled, a family to support and college tuitions to pay.

Beyond resurrecting the influence of Wright, The Amateur adds little to the record about Obama's past. And although the book repeatedly calls him a failure and a disappointment with regard to domestic affairs, Klein has no capacity for explaining specifics. He has little to say about Obamacare beyond disapproving of it and labeling it "an enormously complex Rube Goldberg machine" that was poorly presented to the public.

The personal accusations - that Obama is aloof, that he has not learned from experience, that he has snubbed former supporters - are nasty but vague. Some are even contradictory. Michelle Obama is presented as both overbearing and lazy. Caroline Kennedy, Oprah Winfrey, Valerie Jarrett and Samantha Power are all presented as aggrieved and, in Power's case, demonic. And the photos that accompany The Amateur are bizarre enough to include Desirêe Rogers, whose track record as the White House's social secretary is barely mentioned;Al Capone, because he and Obama both count as Chicagoans;and the famous Situation Room shot of administration members watching the Navy SEAL team's raid on Osama bin Laden.

This skimpy, bitter book is more interested in combining anti-Obama bumper-sticker phrases with very energetic branding, as if hammering home the use of 'amateur' as an epithet is all it takes to make the case. His conclusion, in 12 words: "Republicans will have to remind America that Barack Obama is The Amateur. "

Not all of the book is that concise. Klein describes a soap-operatic 2011 fight between Bill and Hillary Clinton in their home in Chappaqua, NY. The writing combines a tiny bit of information with over-the-top histrionics. Bill, his nose red and his fist banging, claims to have secret poll results proving that the president is beatable. He wants his wife to run against Obama again in 2012. "You can win if you want back in the White House as much as I do, " he says.
"You deserve to be president, " adds their daughter Chelsea. "What about loyalty, Bill? What about loyalty ?" Hillary asks, her eyeballs bulging. "Barack Obama is an amateur!" Mr. Clinton exclaims.
The witnesses to this scene include Tally, a toy poodle, and Seamus, a chocolate lab and "a few old friends. " It was probably a two-legged individual who talked. (Clinton has denied the whole incident. )
Klein later describes Obama's meeting with eight well-known male historians and Doris Kearns Goodwin. Again, the vantage point is peculiar. One person at the meeting, Klein says, was so underwhelmed that this person later had a hush-hush meeting with Klein, in an unnamed deli outside an unnamed city, to tell him what a disappointment Obama was.

This tactic brings to mind Agatha Christie - whose amateur detective, Miss Marple, Klein says, was better at her work than Obama is at his. However, after a book full of invective and much more second-than-first-hand information, The Amateur winds up threatening that Obama may be re-elected. It also predicts an ugly campaign. It got that right.

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