Reading Eugene Goodheart's The State of Our Disunion: The Obama Years is a little like listening to an old but knowledgeable guy ramble on about politics and culture. You appreciate the breadth of his knowledge, you respect his opinion even when you might disagree with him, but you wonder if he's ever going to get to the point. Goodheart is certainly knowledgeable, with educational and teaching credentials to spare. And I really disagreed with him throughout most of the book. But he does tend to ramble.
Goodheart's is a voice of reasonable moderation, leaning to the left. He's a fan and defender of Obama. Critics of Obama's foreign policy unfairly criticize his "allegedly feckless behavior," calling him "incapable of acting promptly and decisively with the necessary determination and force." To Goodheart, white conservatives can't get over a black man in the White House: "It is hard to measure the extent of white displeasure with a black president, but the signs are hard to ignore." (On a side note, Biden's quite pleased to have a black man in the White House. Here's his endorsement of Obama: he is the "first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." All you pre-2008 black politicians just didn't measure up. . . . Nothing racist about Biden's remarks, no way.)
Don't get me wrong. Goodheart is not among the "Obama can do no wrong" crowd. His larger point as he discusses Obama's domestic and foreign policies is that he is a compromiser, open to the best ideas, not tied to the party line. His "'willingness and ability to learn from everybody' and change direction becomes [to liberals] a reflection of his lack of commitment." So he's too fluid and non-dogmatic for liberals, who "viewed his election as the second coming of Martin Luther King," and too liberal (and too black, of course) for conservatives.
This is actually what I like about Goodheart. He's a defender of Obama, but not in a sound bite, Sunday morning talk show kind of way. His style is not at all suited for talk radio, or the daytime talking-head news channel shows. He would be much more at home on one of those PBS or BBC programs, with two guys having long conversations on a bare set with no live audience. Or maybe on Diane Rehm's show. Yes, Goodheart's liberal. No, he's not the most structured writer. But spend an afternoon on the porch with him and you'll definitely learn something. He might even convince you to admire Obama just a little bit more.
Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!
2016 Reading Challege: A book with an ugly cover. OK, there may be uglier covers than this, but you gotta admit, it has a little slapped together, made on a word processor look to it. That's John Boehner telling Obama he's full of bologna, while Obama tries to convince everyone Obama is the smartest, most reasonable person in the room.