A gossipy but mostly meaty look inside the Obama White House, a place less unified than one might expect—or hope.
New York Times Washington correspondent Kantor graduated to that position from the Arts & Leisure section, and it shows in her fascination with First Lady Michelle Obama’s fashion sense, about which we read a great deal, good and bad—good that Mrs. Obama has a fashion sense, bad in the sense that expensive clothing in a time of economic hardship gives the president’s enemies more fodder for complaining. Thus, after the midterms, “she still wore plenty of expensive labels, including designer gowns to formal evening events, but during the day there were more dresses from chain stores.” No one could complain about a $34.95 dress, after all—though of course they could, since a vigorous anti-Obama contingent in Washington is doing all it can to keep the president from fulfilling his ambitions and finds fault in everything he does. Here Sen. Mitch McConnell becomes a notable heavy of the piece. The best parts of Kantor’s book depict a White House beleaguered and harassed, a leader frustrated at being kept from pursuing what he had hoped would be a “post-partisan” style of governance. The book has already made news for its depiction of Mrs. Obama as a tough manager with a reputation for frostiness and impatience: “My staff worries a lot more about what the first lady thinks than they worry about what I think,” she reports President Obama as saying by way of a lead-in to some memorable conflicts with the likes of Robert Gibbs and Rahm Emanuel. Yet, given both Michelle Obama’s misgivings about the toll of political life on her family and the siege-fortress mood of the White House, her protective and decisive demeanor seems entirely understandable, especially given the president’s complementary “elusive, introverted” manner.
If only the “wrath of Michelle,” as it’s known, is the worst thing the staffers have to face. It’s not, though, and Kantor’s fly-on-the-wall view makes illuminating reading for an election year.