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‘The Obamas’ Book Causes Controversy

Posted on the 10 January 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost

‘The Obamas’ book causes controversy over Michelle Obama claims

First Lady Michelle Obama. Photo credit: Lawrence Jackson, official White House photo

The forthcoming book on the Obama White House is generating considerable media heat. The Obamas: A Mission, A Marriage by New York Times reporter Jodie Kantor was described as “explosive” on The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire blog, thanks to revelations of clashes between Michelle Obama and White House staff.

Neither the US President nor the first lady gave interviews for the book; indeed, the White House, has given the 330-page tome the thumbs down, with spokesman Eric Schultz branding it an “over-dramatization of old news”.

But that hasn’t stopped the juicier parts of The Obamas from hitting the headlines, fueled by excerpts published in The New York Times. Here are the top revelations from the book so far.

The Halloween Ball: Johnny Depp and Chewbacca. The White House threw a secret Alice In Wonderland Halloween ball hosted by Johnny Depp: “A Mad-as-a-Hatter idea that was never made public for fear of a political backlash during hard economic times,” said The New York Post, gleefully. The State Dining Room was decorated by Tim Burton “in his signature creepy-comic style”, and Star Wars director George Lucas also made a contribution: He sent the original Chewbacca to mingle with guests. Kantor failed to explain exactly how Hans Solo’s wailing companion fit into the Alice In Wonderland theme.

Obama: Planes, valets and AOL. The serialisation of The Obamas has provided some mundane yet interesting insights into the president’s private life. The Spectator’s James Forsyth was particularly struck by Kantor quoting Obama on his post-presidency ambitions: “When I leave office there are only two things I want. I want a plane and I want a valet.” Sam Stein, political editor at The Huffington Post, took to Twitter to flag up another Obama revelation: “This confirms @buzzfeedben‘s suspicions. Jodi Kantor reveals in her new book that Obama, in the Senate, had an aol email address.”

Breaking news: The Obamas are good parents. The Telegraph picked up on the family angle of the book: “The first lady and president are described as caring parents who put their children first despite the pressures of the White House.” Kantor said that Michelle Obama was worried her children would become spoilt by White House life and therefore limited “the staff’s constant efforts to feed, polish, assist and perfect”.

Michelle Obama has an opinion and isn’t afraid to use it. Aside from the fluffy stuff, the main stories to come out of The Obamas so far concern the first lady’s influence on the White House and her apparently fiery relationship with certain former staffers. According to the book, Michelle Obama believed in 2010 that “Mr. Obama’s advisers were too insular and not strategic enough” – to the considerable annoyance of then Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. That year, the first lady also drew the ire of then press secretary Robin Gibbs who, Kantor claimed, launched into an expletive-laden rant over a story that Michelle Obama had criticised life in the White House. Writing for The Wall Street Journal, Carol E. Lee said that the book paints a picture of the first lady as “a behind-the-scenes force helping shape her husband’s presidency as a steady reminder and custodian of the principles he touted as a candidate” who has “exerted influence indirectly”.

In The Obamas, Jodie Kantor gave her take on the development of Michelle and Barack Obama since entering the White House:”She had entered with her expectations low and then exceeded them; he had entered on top of the world, and had been descending to earth ever since.”

The real revelation: There are no revelations. Mary Mitchell was surprised by all the fuss surrounding the book: “Revelations that Michelle Obama initially wanted to delay moving to the White House so that her children could finish out the school year in Chicago is being treated like a shocking faux pas. What’s so surprising?” she asked in The Chicago Sun-Times. Writing for The Independent, Joan Smith pointed out that some of the book’s supposed insights into the first lady’s influence will be seized on by critics of the Obama administration: “But attacks on the partners of centre-left politicians speak volumes about a culture that’s still struggling with the idea of a relationship between equals,” she said. 

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