Bob Woodward, one of the chief journalists in the breaking of Nixon’s Watergate scandal, prolific author, and current associate editor of the Washington Post, will be releasing his newest work, The Price of Politics, on Tuesday.
The book deals with the three and a half years of on and off negotiations between the president and Congress over federal spending and tax policy – with a heavy focus on the 2011 summer debates over the federal debt ceiling. With the coming “fiscal cliff” awaiting the next President of the United States – whoever it may be – this book would usually promise the public a behind-the-scenes look into how we got here. Yet, by most accounts, the book takes on something of a tunnel vision in going through the subject matter.
“Most of ‘The Price of Politics’,” writes Michiko Kakutani for the New York Times, “sticks like Velcro to its narrow focus on the debt-ceiling negotiations, declining really to grapple with broader questions about the Obama administration’s handling of the economic crisis it inherited after the 2008 crash.”
The Washington Post’s Jeff Shesol seems to agree. “The book is a movie shot entirely in close-up,” he argues. “Regrettably, Woodward’s lack of concern for, or perhaps his impatience with, context and analysis limits his scope.”
Of course, this might be true – and, if one’s goal is to somehow play a “blame game” for the entirety of our fiscal absurdities, then maybe this book is just supplementary reading.
But what it most interesting, at least for those of us who think politics asks for more than number crunching, is Woodward’s “ability to get virtually everyone to talk about everything.”
Even if the book itself is unable – or unwilling – to look at the whole story in a critical way, we should still be able to make out some interesting characters that tell us a bit more about our politics and why things are the way they are.
We have, for instance, a most aloof president. He is a man who believes he’s right, believes that others should fall in line, and believes that his reason should be everybody’s reason. He is a man who is legitimately confused and upset when things go wrong, if for no other reason than his own inability to see why anyone would disagree with him.
On the other side, some Republicans seem to have had enough of negotiation. We hear about this position as being an “extreme” one – and maybe it is – but their rigidity comes along side over one hundred years of backpedalling, dating back to the blocking of Theodore Roosevelt’s name from the Republican ticket in 1912.
What prominent Republicans saw then was a form of progressivism that threatened the foundation of the American system of government – a Theodore Roosevelt who wanted to run his own show and upend constitutional government. Today, Republicans in Congress, especially those in vein of the Tea Party, see the same sort of threats from the Obama administration.
So, when we’re given anecdotes in which the president complains of “Congress taking over,” we get a sense of who the man is – in this case, a guy who doesn’t respect the Congress’s position as the primary lawmaking body.
The book, for whatever it may omit, is thus worth reading. It promises a look into the character of these men who often come across only in pre-packed speeches and gimmicky slogans, and it may give readers a better sense of who to trust this coming November.