On Top of the World


A Consequential President

By: Michael D'Antonio

Michael D’Antonio is an author, screenwriter and biographer with CNN. Before becoming a full-time author, D’Antonio worked as a journalist and received the 1984 Pulitzer Prize shared with the Newsday team surrounding the Baby Jane Doe case.

Adversity and Achievement: Obama's Legacy

By: Emily Ton

There’s not a black America and white America; there’s the United States of America.” This ideology encompasses the main premise of Michael D’Antonio’s book, A Consequential President: Obama had to overcome the racial bias placed on him during his campaign despite his intentions of uniting Americans. D’Antonio chronicles Obama’s journey, from an Illinois senator “from a different place and culture,” to President of the United States in the span of twelve years.1 D’Antonio spends each chapter individually discussing the different important topics under Obama’s campaign such as energy conservation and financial reform in order to convey the importance of his accomplishments.

The first quarter of the book focuses primarily on introducing Barack Obama and his history politically and personally. The author discusses the “equal and opposite force among his political opponents, who determined to thwart him with a just-say-no response,” and describes Obama as a hardworking, ambitious American.2 D’Antonio particularly emphasizes that “time and time again Obama was drawn into a national conversation about race and justice,” when it was not his intention to do so.3 The introduction moves from his background and steps to the Oval Office to the main purpose of writing the book. Concluding the introduction with “Surely in time most if not all of Obama’s fellow citizens will develop a fuller appreciation of the President’s achievements,” the audience gets a sense of the author’s purpose regarding the subject and the reasoning behind the organization of the chapters—each chapter focusing on one of Obama’s accomplishments.4 The focus shifts from Barack Obama’s early history to his efforts to end “the Great Recession, the most important problem the president faced.”5 Obama gained support for his Recovery Act by adding tax cuts and responding to GOP priorities. D’Antonio conveys how Obama was willing to compromise and bend while his opposers were unrelenting to change. Republicans were appointed to the president’s cabinet and a handful of GOP governors endorsed the act. Obama proposed his Recovery Act but when the program was put to a vote in the House, “not one Republican supported it.”6 However, with a large majority of Democrats in Congress, it passed. As a result of his Recovery Act, the official poverty rate declined 1.2 percent. More than a third of the Recovery Act would be measured in tax breaks while“about $500 million would be spent to shore up social programs.”7 Another issue Obama handled was the auto industry and its need for rescue. The auto industry suffered from foreign competition and failed to offer models that would sustain market profits over long periods of time. The president responded to the auto industry crisis by remarking, “We cannot, and must, not, let our auto industry simply vanish.”8 Obama implemented the Cash for Clunkers program which gives up to $4,500 in rebate checks to anyone who gave up a gas hogging car. By doing so, the increased sales from the program was the beginning of an auto sales recovery.

The second quarter of the book shows other fields that Obama improved on during his presidency: health care reform, energy, and the environment. To describe the president’s progress in health care reform, the author begins the chapter with an anecdote about a woman named Spike Dolomite, a breast cancer survivor, who attributed her well being to President Obama’s healthcare initiative. Spike believes that she might not have survived without the Affordable Care Act, the President’s most controversial achievement. The Affordable Care Act is made out, by the author, to be extremely successful and unprecedented: “many previous presidents had sought but failed to expand health care insurance on a similar scale.”9 In January 2010, the president decided to engage in the health care debate more directly and attended the House Republicans’ annual retreat at a Baltimore Hotel. He invited members of Congress to ask him questions or bring up complaints to which he tried to respond firmly but fairly. The president’s acclaimed “Obamacare” showed positive effects long before the exchanges opened as “the percent of Americans without insurance began to drop in 2010 and continued downward.”10 Also, the cost of Obamacare proved to be less than expected. However, “individual experience with Obamacare varied greatly and was affected by where Americans lived,” which proved to be disadvantageous as it opened up a divide between states governed primarily by Republicans and states governed primarily by Democrats.11 Regarding energy, Obama’s energy record was one of the successes notched by the president’s administration. President Obama’s policies between 2008 and 2012 “more than tripled solar energy production.”12 However, between 2005 and 2015, the number of active coal sites in the United States fell 40%, leading to less jobs. Coal was “the one big energy business that lost ground in the Obama years.”13 Obama received praise from health organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics for his effort to reduce pollution from gases and coal. Environmentally, 2015 was “the hottest recorded since reliable data became available in the 1880s.”14 There had been a growing concern of “global warming” that has been recognized in the 1980s. Critics of global warming used the possibility of “credible doubt” to block meaningful arguments for global warming and its existence. Obama took the initiative to seek international cooperation in terms of climate change. He sought to act on the criticisms from members of Congress—that industrializing countries like China and India sought to continue burning cheap fuels while “America transitioned to lower carbon energy supplies.”15 The president worked closely with China’s president, Xi Jinping, and found common ground on climate change. They worked to agree on reducing most potent greenhouse gases. The environmental success Obama had, with his energy program and initiatives such as the Clean Power Plan, gave the world hope.

The author discusses foreign policy, education, and financial reform in the third quarter of the book. An anecdote is mentioned about Tehran in July 2015, where the people cried, “Freedom! Freedom!”D’Antonio outlines Iran’s nuclear history and its beginnings when it was a US ally. Obama sought to “reverse Bush-era policy and talk with the Iranians.”16 He was the first president to acknowledge that Iran was an Islamic Republic. Also, President Obama and Rouhani, the country’s principal negotiator, were leaders who had the potential to ease nuclear tensions and left sanctions. D’Antonio also praises Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership as well as the effort to normalize relations between America and Cuba. However, the president faced criticism for failing to close down the “American prison for terror suspects in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.”17 In terms of education, Obama stresses the responsibilities of families to “help their children overcome their circumstances.”18 In 2009, the president started the Recovery Act, which was where the Obama administration’s educational initiatives began. Education was the third priority in the bill, teachers’ salaries were paid for and crumbling buildings were repaired. Obama called for increased funding of early education and improvements to the No Child Left Behind program. Financial reform began with the signing of an act of Congress in 2009 which created the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) to investigate “the crisis that had spread from housing to Wall Street and then the entire economy.”19 In 2016, a mid year report on the strength of major financial institutions and the Fed issued “unconditional passing grades to all but one American based bank.”20 Obama’s financial reforms proved to be successful.

The last quarter of the book covers equality reform and progress from 2010 onwards. Barack Obama was a proponent of equal pay for women and continued to champion the issue throughout his two terms. In 2014, he imposed some of the rules “contained in the Paycheck Fairness Act on federal contractors,” which required equal pay between men and women.21 “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a Clinton policy that discriminated against gay men and women. The rule prohibited military members from discussing sexual orientation and thus, Obama pushed to repeal it. The president faced high expectations among members of his party regarding civil rights, as they were disappointed with his stance affected by “the House of Representatives in GOP control.”22 D’Antonio acknowledges Obama’s shortcomings and unfinished affairs in the final chapter of the book: “Inevitably, he would disappoint many supporters and leave much for his successors to undertake.”23 The author argues that Obama, concerned with other affairs, “failed to address the racial problems of unarmed black men killed by police.”24 Obama also faced criticism for failing to close the prison camp at Guantanamo, being slow while pulling troops out of Afghanistan and terrorism attacks such as 9/11. The citizens of the United States blamed Obama for the terrorism attacks. Although he did not have control over these attacks, American citizens felt he did not rise to the challenge of preventing terrorism extremely.

Throughout the book, D’Antonio capitalizes on Barack Obama’s accomplishments as well as his, albeit brief, shortcomings. The author wrote A Consequential President in hopes that the many Americans that “failed to appreciate all that he had achieved,” would see the extent of his achievements in the present day.25 D’Antonio tries to paint Obama in a positive light, for a majority of the book, and refutes claims of his ineffectiveness. He hopes that readers will develop a “fuller appreciation of the president’s policy achievements.”26

Michael D’Antonio is a journalist from Newsday and as of 2016, a regular contributor to CNN, clueing the readers on a possible bias towards Obama rather than Trump. CNN is known to be heavily critical of Donald Trump and his policies out of the news broadcasts. As he is a journalist, the reader is able to understand his writing style and his use of excessive facts and stories to appeal to the audience. D’Antonio won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting work and wrote books such as Never Enough and The Truth About Trump—both about businessman and then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. His preference of Obama’s mannerisms over Trump are evident near the end of the book when the author states, “Faced with the prospect of Trump, Obama chose to speak of optimism instead of anxiety.”27 D’Antonio’s rhetoric is subtle but leans towards bias, supported with his previous works about Trump. Never Enough, for example, is a “damning account of Trump’s life,” according to the New York Times and focuses on Trump’s failed marriages, self- absorption, and his emergence as a celebrity and presidential candidate.

The author published this book in January of 2017, immediately before the induction of Trump into the presidency. D’Antonio wrote this book and published it at the end of Obama’s last term in an effort to reflect on the ending of this president’s term and the beginning of a new one. He specifically states that he hopes that this book will be a “step toward understanding the president’s policy achievements and historical significance.”28

Publisher’s Weekly praises D’Antonio for being “partisan in that he admires Obama, but as a distinguished reporter, his assessments are balanced.”29 D’Antonio also receives praise from his plethora of evidence and “accounts from people quite outside the Washington Beltway.” (source same) The Chicago Tribune’s journalist Scott Porch comments on the “massive trove of fact-checked, citation-provided facts,” the book contains.30

The organization of A Consequent President may be efficient in subtly praising Obama for his overcoming of racial adversity and prejudice in the government as well as in public; however, it is not balanced. Nine out of the ten chapters in the book sings Obama’s praises: “Obama was a consequential president in so many ways that to focus on his symbolic importance would be an insult to the man and the historical record.”31 The last chapter crams his disappointing moments (race relations, Guantanamo, the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the war at home and wall street accountability) from his two terms into 16 pages. This unequal distribution between accomplishments and shortcomings may bother the reader, especially focused at the end and mentioned briefly, almost as if trying to downplay the president’s failures. A positive aspect of the book is the—sometimes humorous—anecdotes at the beginning of each chapter. Interesting facts such as “On the day he became the president of the United States, Barack Obama put on faded jeans…” keep the reader engaged with the topic each chapter introduces and further elaborates on.32 However, the author may have planned these anecdotes at the beginning to engage the reader because the middle part, or the body, of the chapters are a tangle of confusing statistics, briefly mentioned politicians, and trivial terms. The only understandable and effective part of the chapter is the conclusion, where D’Antonio summarizes his main points without adding confusion.

D’Antonio conveys the political changes that have come to America due to the Cold War and a fear of terrorism as a facet of Obama’s criticism during his campaign. Obama’s term ran after 9/11 and through the increase of terrorist paranoia that has come with the 21st century and the rise of ISIS. A Consequent President briefly touches upon the public’s fear of terrorism that was “stroked by the horror that came with unexpected deadly attacks, such as the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013…”33 D’Antonio claims that as a candidate, Obama said he would “improve privacy protections for Americans and check terrorists.”34 However, D’Antonio claims that Obama was ineffective and “had not just fallen short of these goals but he had made more compromises on civil liberties, in the pursuit of national security, than President Bush.”35 The book does not mention the direct impact of digital technology on America since the 1990’s often but does mention technology in a passage about the war at home and invasion of privacy. D’Antonio references Edward Snowden and how he copied thousands of files and gave them to journalists. Technology, in this book, is referred to in a negative connotation and seemingly has a negative reaction from American citizens resulting from breaches in national security. Citizens were worried about programs for spying on US citizens’ telephone communications and e-mail and “tapping into the flow of data passing through Internet and telephone companies.”36

Through anecdotes and statistics, A Consequential President by Michael D’Antonio urges the audience to understand and appreciate the adversities Obama had to overcome as well as his less-acknowledged achievements. Barack Obama must be considered one of the most consequential presidents in history due to his unwavering persistence, reforms for equality, energy, and the environment, and trying to better the conditions passed to him: “History, fairly told, will show he fulfilled his message of hope at home and abroad for years to come.”37

[1] D’Antonio, Michael. 9.
[2] D’Antonio, Michael. 2.
[3] D’Antonio, Michael. 21.
[4] D’Antonio, Michael. 24.
[5] D’Antonio, Michael. 27.
[6] D’Antonio, Michael. 43.
[7] D’Antonio, Michael. 45.
[8] D’Antonio, Michael. 71.
[9] D’Antonio, Michael. 83.
[10] D’Antonio, Michael. 100.
[11] D’Antonio, Michael. 102.
[12] D’Antonio, Michael. 105.
[13] D’Antonio, Michael. 121.
[14] D’Antonio, Michael. 123.
[15] D’Antonio, Michael.132.
[16] D’Antonio, Michael. 146.
[17] D’Antonio, Michael. 155.
[18] D’Antonio, Michael. 191.
[19] D’Antonio, Michael. 208.
[20] D’Antonio, Michael. 214.
[21] D’Antonio, Michael. 221.
[22] D’Antonio, Michael. 231.
[23] D’Antonio, Michael. 231.
[24] D’Antonio, Michael. 24.
[25] D’Antonio, Michael. 24.
[26] D’Antonio, Michael. 258.
[27] D’Antonio, Michael. 24.
[28] Nonfiction Book Review: A Consequential President: The Legacy of Barack Obama by Michael D’Antonio. St. Martin’s/Dunne, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-08139-1.” PublishersWeekly.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2017.
[29] Porch, Scott. “Tallying the facts of Obama’s economic legacy.” Chicagotribune.com. N.p., 12 Jan. 2017. Web. 23 May 2017.
[30] D’Antonio, Michael. 22.
[31] D’Antonio, Michael. 25.
[32] D’Antonio, Michael. 241.
[33] D’Antonio, Michael. 241.
[34] D’Antonio, Michael. 243.
[35] D’Antonio, Michael. 242.
[36] D’Antonio, Michael. 258.