REVIEW: ‘The Long Alliance: The Imperfect Union of Joe Biden and Barack Obama’
Andrew Stiles • September 17, 2022 5:00 am
Barack Obama did not even want to choose a running mate in the summer of 2008. Confident of his imminent general election victory, he had already begun planning his presidential transition and “thought extensively about his place in the world.” He would have chosen himself if allowed, but in the end he chose Joe Biden, the “overly talkative and overly confident” lifelong senator who placed fifth in the Iowa caucus earlier that year. The rest is history.
The Long Alliance: The Imperfect Union of Joe Biden and Barack Obama by means of New York magazine correspondent Gabriel Debenedetti is a thorough examination of this “nearly two decades relationship that claims to be the most profound of all in 21st-century politics.” The passage of time — not to mention the steady stream of candid comments leaked to the press — has eroded conventional wisdom about the Obama-Biden duo as an unlikely partnership that blossomed into a full-blown bromance. Long Alliance examines in detail how this relationship was (and still is) “more complicated than commonly appreciated.”
Neither Obama nor Biden agreed to be interviewed for the book, but Debenedetti is able to share their “decisions, motivations, beliefs, hopes and concerns,” which she learned from hundreds of interviews with aides and collaborators with first-hand knowledge. have collected, to recreate in some way. that feels authentic. The author largely succeeds in abstaining from unnecessary pundirity and letting the reporting speak for itself. The result is a largely sympathetic but not always flattering portrayal of the two protagonists.
Long Alliance is a prime example of how the hindsight advantage has improved the media’s ability to judge Obama and his presidency. More than a decade away from his historic election as the country’s first black president, he is no longer the messianic figure who thrilled Chris Matthews and won the Nobel Peace Prize just because. Some journalists, who have outgrown the compulsion to crawl at Obama’s feet to prove their opposition to racism, have been encouraged to accurately describe the former president as a “self-consciously arrogant” narcissist – “never… lack of confidence” because “no one who writes a memoir in their thirties” – surrounded by “a cabal of strategists and number-crunchers who considered themselves brilliant world changers.”
Biden is, of course, a different kind of politician. Debenedetti elaborates on the contrasting styles of the two men, while also highlighting a crucial similarity: anyone who wants to run for president is, by definition, a self-centered psychopath. The book shows how Obama saw the presidency as the ultimate homework assignment or an exclusive internship to fill his resume with, and how he hated every aspect of the job for which he started running “almost immediately” after becoming a senator. – a public figure who was “excited by the inconveniences” of a public figure and openly fantasized about being an ex-president before being elected.
The book contains several examples of Obama’s supernatural arrogance and capacity for self-deception. For example, after refusing to adequately prepare for the first presidential debate against Mitt Romney in 2012, Obama explained his appalling performance by suggesting that “he just wasn’t as desperate as other politicians to ask for approval.” He mused – he was always “musing” or “ruminating” in “big words” – that he was “ahead of his time” and Donald Trump’s shocking victory was due to the fact that “people are bored with all the successes of his own administration.” A notoriously aloof madman, Obama hates it when people call him aloof. In 2016, he spent election night watching Doctor Strange with his wife and Valerie Jarrett.
Biden is also an arrogant lunatic. Most politicians are. That alone might explain why he and Obama sometimes got along so well and bumped other heads. Before working with Obama in 2008, Biden was repeatedly discouraged that the American people did not share his extraordinarily high opinion of themselves. He was not a fan of Obama’s “messianic” coverage and the novice senator’s refusal to wait his turn. He had to be urged to accept the VP nomination—the best thing that ever happened to him—because he felt he should be Secretary of State and didn’t want to tarnish his “brand” by taking a less influential gig.
Debenedetti says Biden’s first thought when entering the 2012 vice presidential debate against GOP nominee Paul Ryan was, “I could take this man physically.” Months earlier, the VP had “dipped into the positive headlines” after ruining Obama’s carefully orchestrated “evolution” by blurting out his support for same-sex marriage during an interview on Meet the press. Some time later, he sat down with son Beau and “watched the interview again and again, to marvel at what he had done.” He had a habit of blatantly lying to make himself look good, falsely claiming to have supported bin Laden’s raid and suggesting that he “asked” Obama not to support him in 2020. Historian Jon Meacham did not write. only his speeches, he also helped decorate the oval office.
Biden proved right about 2020, winning the general election after Obama urged him to “don’t embarrass himself” by running. He was right about 2016, when he insisted that Hillary Clinton was a weak candidate who would struggle to win white working-class voters in the Midwest, but ultimately decided not to challenge her for the nomination after Beau’s death in 2015. Nevertheless, Obama is the reason Biden is president today. Their imperfect union spans a tumultuous period in American politics that has mostly revealed how little professional politicians and pundits know about American voters: Obama didn’t stand a chance against the Clinton machine. Neither does Trump. And Biden couldn’t possibly win against the likes of Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke and Elizabeth Warren.
Obama and Biden are still in touch, Debenedetti reports, and hook up every few weeks for sessions of “political therapy,” presumably to sympathize with the fact that Democratic presidents are always victims of forces beyond their control, including “a skeptical public that doesn’t want to win over’. by politicians explaining that the economy is actually better than they think it is according to this chart. Their relationship will soon be put to the test again as Biden decides whether or not to be re-elected at age 81 and Obama decides which celebrities to invite to his next birthday party.
The Long Alliance: The Imperfect Union of Joe Biden and Barack Obama
by Gabriel Debenedetti
Henry Holt, 432 pp., $29.99