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Obama, The Amateur—Interview with Edward Klein (Part 1 of 2)

June 25, 2012

Edward Klein’s new book, The Amateur: Barack Obama in the White House, is a devastating portrait of America’s 44th president. The book is based on more than 200 interviews, many of them on the record. The title comes from remarks made by former President Bill Clinton back in August of 2011 at his home in Chappaqua, New York. Klein describes an ongoing conversation that went on for “days, if not for weeks,” in which Bill was pushing hard to convince Hillary Clinton to leave her post as Secretary of State to run against Obama in 2012. The conversation was in front of several close friends, at least one of whom obviously spoke to Klein. “The economy’s a mess, it’s dead flat,” Clinton told Hillary. “They don’t know what they’re doing. They govern in sound bites.”

Hillary brought up the issue of loyalty. Bill replied that “loyalty doesn’t exist in politics.” He said he has no relationship with the President whatsoever. “Obama doesn’t know how to be president. He doesn’t know how the world works. He’s incompetent.” Finally, Clinton stated, “Barack Obama is an amateur.”

While this has been denied by Clinton staffers, Klein defines this amateurism as “a president who is inept in the arts of management and governance, who doesn’t learn from his mistakes, and who therefore repeats policies that make our economy less robust and our nation less safe. We discover a man who blames all his problems on those with whom he disagrees (‘Washington,’ ‘Republicans,’ ‘the media’), who discards old friends and supporters when they are no longer useful (Democrats, African-Americans, Jews), and who is so thin skinned that he constantly complains about what people say and write about him. We come to know a strange kind of politician, one who derives no joy from the cut and thrust of politics, but who clings to the narcissistic life of the presidency.”

Klein says that “this portrait of Obama is radically at odds with the image of a centrist, pragmatic, post-partisan leader that his political handlers have tried to create. And it is a far cry from the Obama most Americans remember from four years ago.”

“How did he turn out to be the most divisive president in recent American history?” asks Klein. It is that question that is at the heart of this book.

Some of Obama’s critics don’t accept the notion that he is an amateur. Instead, they see him as clever and manipulative, a left-wing ideologue who knows exactly what he is doing. Klein certainly doesn’t dismiss that idea. “Based on my reporting,” writes Klein, “I concluded that Obama is actually in revolt against the values of the society he was elected to lead. Which is why he has refused to embrace American exceptionalism—the idea that Americans are a special people with a special destiny—and why he has railed at the capitalist system, demonized the wealthy, and embraced the Occupy Wall Street movement.”

Klein sees what he considers both aspects of Obama’s character: “Not only is Barack Obama an amateur, unable to function in the job of the Presidency,” he told Accuracy in Media, “but he is, at the same time, a creature of Chicago politics, and a very radical left-wing member of the Democratic Party who wants to use his time in office to engineer a transformation of our society, and make us a much more socialistic country. This is the toxic mix of incompetence and radicalism, and we’ve seen the results in many ways, most dramatically, perhaps, in the terrible economic fix that we find ourselves in today, thanks, in large part, to Obama’s boneheaded policies.”

Edward Klein has had a long, distinguished career as a journalist and author. He was editor-in-chief of The New York Times Magazine for more than a decade, and was the foreign editor for Newsweek. He has written numerous historical books, many of which have been bestsellers, including The Amateur, which at this writing has been number one on The New York Times bestseller list for four straight weeks. In an exclusive interview with Accuracy in Media, we discussed Klein’s politics, his years at The New York Times, and his research about President Obama.

What has received the most attention from Klein’s latest book is his interview with the controversial Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who was the pastor of the church in Chicago that Obama attended for more than 20 years. Wright told Klein of an offer of money from the Obama camp in return for his silence during the 2008 campaign. Wright has changed his opinion of Obama, rather significantly, and was very willing to talk about it, knowing the tape recorder was rolling.

We also talked about Obama’s record on national security issues, and his relationship with the government of Israel and the Jewish community. Whatever one thinks of Obama, they will gain new insights upon reading this book. Klein has done an excellent job of reporting. Not surprisingly, The New York Times and Washington Post have both written about the book in unflattering terms, questioning the veracity of some of Klein’s reporting. The Post quotes a Hillary Clinton aide as calling Klein “a congenital liar.” The article says that Klein is reviled by the left and has not yet been embraced by the right.

Editor’s Note: You can read excerpts from the interview next week, or you can go online and read or listen to the complete interview here.

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Copyright ©2012 Roger Aronoff

Roger Aronoff is the Editor of Accuracy in Media, and a member of the Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi. He can be contacted at roger.aronoff@aim.org.