Gwen’s Take: Looking Anew at the Rise of President Obama


When The Washington Post asked me to review David Remnick’s new book “The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama,” I quickly said yes.

As someone who spends my days trying to peer inside, through and around national and global events, I possess a bottomless well of curiosity about people who aspire to lead.

You will see in the review that I admired Remnick’s final product, all 600+ pages of it. This is in part because I spent so much time (and sweat and tears) trying to write a far more narrowly focused book of my own in 2008.

The books are not really alike, although there is some overlap. We both write a lot about race, but that was the underlying theme of my book, and it was not limited to President Obama.

What Remnick did that impressed me is he did not shy away from the notion that race is integral to the broader story he set out to tell about the come-from-nowhere Obama story. Along the way, he systematically exploded the political fairytale that had sprung up around the President – showing us there was nothing magical about his accomplishment.

For largely understandable reasons, many Americans shy away from talking about race. The discussion of racially-tinged issues is, after all, still often linked to conflict or accusation. We’re not used to ever seeing it as a positive. (Witness the blow back Republican party chairman Michael Steele got this week when he suggested that part of the way he is perceived has to do with his race. Or note how quickly some on the left want to dismiss the discontent that has found its voice in Tea Party activism as racism in disguise.)

What Remnick does instead, in a neutral scholarly way, is to integrate race into the talk of the rise of Barack Obama. Race is certainly not all of who the president is, but it is just as certainly an essential part of who he is. Whatever could be wrong with that?

Read the review and see what you think.

This entry is cross-posted on Washington Week’s Web site. Tune in on Friday to catch Gwen Ifill and her panel of guests discuss President Obama’s focus shift from a domestic to foreign policy issues and the retirement of Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.