Book Review: A Long Time Coming

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Title:A Long Time Coming

Author: Evan Thomas with the Newsweek staff

Publisher: Public Affairs

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List Price: $22.95

“There will come a time when Obama is tested by international crisis and the Russians, and the Russians or someone will jump in the gap to criticize him, and John McCain will emerge to tell the country that the president is doing the right thing.” Evan Thomas and the political reporters at Newsweek promise a behind the scenes account of the 2008 presidential election in the book “A Long Time Coming”, and they deliver a vivid portrait of the people, the thought processes, and the strategy behind the campaigns of Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama.

The material for the book was compiled from Newsweek’s coverage of the campaign. Reporters were given behind the scenes access to the campaigns with the condition that nothing they learned would be printed until after the election. Often books of this type struggle to form a cohesive narrative. They seem disjointed, and they read like a compilation of articles.

In the case of “A Long Time Coming,” the editors did a fantastic job weaving together a storyline that is both clear and compelling. It is all here, the calm of the Obama campaign, the dysfunction and in fighting of the Clinton campaign, and the McCain campaign’s constant internal battle over competing directions and narratives.

One might expect that this would be an Obama centered work, but it isn’t. It is a very even handed look at both Obama and McCain. There is no sense that the Thomas or the reporters at Newsweek were taking sides. In fact, the book frequently points how many of the reporters who covered John McCain liked him, which could help explain why the media always gave him higher grades for his debate performances than the voters did, but how advisors to McCain distrusted and isolated him from the media. (Looking back, one of the biggest mistakes of the McCain campaign was that they tried to change their candidate).

The candidates are portrayed warts and all. Obama can seem cold and aloof, but also good natured and humble. Mrs. Clinton is a candidate who has trouble controlling her staff, and at one point questions why she is running. John McCain betrays some of his own political instincts and trusts advisors who don’t know him well. McCain comes off as a man in an ill fitting suit. His mindset is not of an establishment front running Republican, and he does not wear it well. The portrait of Sarah Palin contradicts her recent revisionist history of the Republican general election campaign.

Much of this material originally ran in the November 17, 2008 issue of Newsweek, but the book contains an epilogue that discusses the Obama/Lincoln comparison, and argues that in terms of his decision making process, Obama is closer to LBJ than Lincoln. The appendix of the book features an interview with Obama done in May. At only 256 pages, “A Long Time Coming” is a clear, concise, and fast read. We all know how the story of the 2008 election ended. The fun in this book is the behind the scenes account of how we got there.

You can purchase “A Long Time Coming” at: publicaffairsbooks.com, Amazon.com, and Barnes and Noble.com

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