I don’t normally forgive careless profanity, and this book literally starts off with an X-rated bomb in the first sentence. But the rest of it is a funny, often inspirational look at what it was like for a gifted young writer barely out of his teens to serve on the Obama speechwriting team.
Litt’s tell-all has its candid and wrenching moments. The Affordable Care Act’s rollout was an unmitigated disaster for Team Obama, and he blasts the President for not getting that right. The President’s first debate against Gov. Romney was another gut-squeezing failure, and even most Democratic loyalists and pundits rightly blamed Obama for not taking this political tradition seriously and doing his homework. The author’s gifted use of metaphors is one reason why he landed his job as speechwriter, and at this point in the narrative, he sighs: “Metaphorically speaking, the nation had noticed that its leader left dishes in the sink.”
But after the juicy tidbits about all-nighters and the White House mess and getting to ride on Air Force One, this very good book reveals the heart of the Obama presidency. For one thing, accuracy and honesty were highly regarded virtues. “There was an entire research office,” Litt writes, “responsible for making sure that the president’s statements were true.”
He was on the inside long enough to observe Mr. Obama in his interpersonal relationships “Not all good presidents are good people. But Barack Obama was the kind of person who noticed when a member of his staff was being insulted and refused to walk away. He used his power to defend the dignity of others.”
And I appreciate his insight about how the President worked tirelessly to understand and grasp the incredibly challenging issues that rear their ugly heads and beset any world leader. Scott McClellan, Bush’s (41) press secretary, similarly affirmed his own boss, but Litt writes about Obama: “I’d often heard senior staff describe President Obama as the smartest guy in the room, but only now did I realize what they meant. He didn’t speak seven languages or know the Latin names of species or multiply large numbers in his head. What he did, more quickly than anyone, was strip away complicated issues to their essence and make the most of the information obtained. No one was better at getting to the point.”
One of the best bits, though, is how he describes the President’s passion for moms who struggle with a chronically sick kid. A little girl named Zoe Lihn was diagnosed with a rare and often fatal congenital heart defect – Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS). Her mother, Stacey, became an ardent advocate for Obamacare, which would give her child lifetime protection as she battled to stay well.
I think any fair-minded reader will appreciate knowing more about how communication happens in the White House, and this book is a valuable resource in that goal.