Review of Reading Obama, by James T. Kloppenberg (Princeton, 302 pages, $24.95)
In mid-October, by which time it had become evident that the November midterm elections would deliver a rebuke of historic proportions, President Barack Obama stated in a New York Times Magazine interview that his mistake had been to neglect "marketing and P.R. and public opinion." His problem, in other words, was a failure to communicate.
This claim is difficult to reconcile with the extraordinary rise in 2009 of an energized grass-roots movement combining disaffected Republicans, libertarians and independents. They seemed to grasp the president's goal: to enact a sweeping progressive agenda. In the best traditions of democracy in America—and by means of town-hall meetings, tea-party rallies and the marvels of social networking—people organized to elect representatives and block the transformative ambitions with which they disagreed.