The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies

Jonathan Alter. Simon & Schuster, $30 (448p) ISBN 978-1-4516-4607-8

Common-sense politics devolve into a season of craziness in this engrossing account of the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign. Journalist Alter follows up his bestselling The Promise: President Obama, Year One with a savvy dissection of the 2010–2012 election cycle and related political dogfights, including budget and debt-ceiling showdowns, the Republican primary circus, and the “Obama Derangement Syndrome” infecting Tea Partiers and talk-radio hosts. At the center are rich portraits of the antagonists: Obama is seen as a cerebral antipolitician with no “schmooze gene” who hates back-slapping, slogan-spewing theatrics; Romney is portrayed as a well-meaning candidate forced to pander to the rabid Right, and unable to convince the middle class he is anything other than a calculating businessman trying to close a deal. Alter’s well-paced narrative delights in campaign folderol, but he also analyzes deeper currents—including state-level Republican “voter-suppression” efforts aimed at Democrats, and the immense Obama field operation that wedded digital modeling and social networks to old-fashioned door-to-door organizing in revolutionary new ways. He makes the horse race coherent by teasing out the class politics and demographic shifts driving it. Lucid, entertaining, and alive to the reality behind the posturing, Alter’s report reveals the high stakes and far-reaching import of the 2012 decision. (June 4)