NYT's Top Book Critic Forwards Myth of Obama the Moderate

When was this? Top book critic Michiko Kakutani uses David Remnick's new Obama biography to champion Obama as a pragmatic compromiser: "Perhaps it's also an inclination that explains why he made such a concerted effort last year to try to get Republican support on a health care bill."

You can always tell when the paper's top book critic (and political liberal) Michiko Kakutani likes a book - she quotes it. Huge chunks of it. That template applied to her Tuesday review of David Remnick's "incisive new book on Barack Obama," which was divided between praise of Obama, praise of Remnick, and verbatim passages from his book.

"The Bridge," the title of David Remnick's incisive new book on Barack Obama, refers to the bridge in Selma, Ala., where civil rights demonstrators were violently attacked by state troopers on March 7, 1965, in a bloody clash that would galvanize the nation and help lead to the passage of the Voting Rights Act. It refers to the observation made by one of the leaders of that march, John Lewis, that "Barack Obama is what comes at the end of that bridge in Selma" - an observation Congressman Lewis made nearly 44 years later, on the eve of Mr. Obama's inauguration. And it refers to the hope voiced by many of the president's supporters that he would be a bridge between the races, between red states and blue states, between conservatives and liberals, between the generations who remember the bitter days of segregation and those who have grown up in a new, increasingly multicultural America.

By now, Mr. Obama's story has been told many times - by journalists and the authors of several biographies and campaign books, and most memorably by the president himself, who in the days before he became a politician wrote a remarkably eloquent and searching memoir ("Dreams From My Father") about his youth, his struggle to come to terms with his absent father, and his groping efforts to forge an identity of his own.

This next paragraph cited ended with a howler (in bold), as Kakutani joins the queue of Times writers attempting to portray the liberal Obama as some kind of moderate, pragmatist synthesizer of opposing views:

Like many reporters, Mr. Remnick describes Mr. Obama in these pages as cool, charismatic, slightly detached: an autodidact with a lawyer's analytical intelligence and a novelist's empathetic temperament; an idealist who is also a pragmatist; a politician inclined to be methodical and cautious in his decision making. Like Ryan Lizza (in a 2007 article in The New Republic) and Richard Wolffe (in his 2009 book, "Renegade"), Mr. Remnick also places considerable emphasis on the role that community organizing had in shaping Mr. Obama's approach to politics - experience that ratified the future president's inclination to listen and engage other people. It's an inclination that would be reinforced further by his time at Harvard Law School and the University of Chicago, politically diverse, often contentious places, where his impulse was to try to reconcile or synthesize opposing views. Perhaps it's also an inclination that explains why he made such a concerted effort last year to try to get Republican support on a health care bill.

"Once, at a debate over affirmative action with the staff of the Harvard Law Review," Mr. Remnick writes, "Obama spoke as if he were threading together the various arguments in the room, weighing their relative strengths, never judging or dismissing a point of view. 'If anyone had walked by, they would have assumed he was a professor,' Thomas J. Perrelli, a friend of Obama's who went on to work in his Justice Department, said. 'He was leading the discussion, but he wasn't trying to impose his own perspective on it. He was much more mediating.' "

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