With exclusive access to Barack Obama and his inner circle, veteran political reporter Wolffe portrays a historic candidate and his inscrutable character and campaign in stunning detail.
RICHARD WOLFFE is an award-winning journalist and political analyst for MSNBC television, appearing frequently on MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and Hardball. He covered the entire length of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign for Newsweek magazine. Before Newsweek, Wolffe was a senior journalist at the Financial Times, serving as its deputy bureau chief and U.S. diplomatic correspondent. He lives with his wife and their three children in Washington, D.C.
Election day starts, in the small hours, where the candidate has spent most of his last 626 days: on a plane. Stuck to the gray plastic walls of the pressurized cabin are snapshots of his odyssey across cities and fields, mountains and deserts, continents and oceans. A snowstorm in Iowa, a press conference in Downing Street. Camera crews dozing onboard, Secret Service agents sharing a joke. The candidate signing books, reporters holding audio recorders close to his face. Now, between the empty candy wrappers and the drained beer bottles, he walks back one last time from his spacious first-class section, through his staffers’ business-class seats, to the coach class of the press. “You know, whatever happens, it’s extraordinary you guys have shared this process with us, and I just want to say thank you and I appreciate you,” he says, shaking everyone’s hand. One reporter asks how he’s feeling, but he insists that he won’t answer questions. Even obvious ones. He thanks the young TV producers who have trailed his every move from the start, admires the photos on the overhead bins, then pokes fun at a magazine reporter who was parodied on Saturday Night Live. He gives a birthday kiss to a young photo-grapher, shakes hands with every member of the aircrew, and finishes with a simple farewell: “OK, guys, let’s go home.”
The last twenty-four hours felt like the longest day of the long campaign. It began with the news that the last living person to raise him through childhood, his grandmother Toot, had lost her struggle against cancer. At his penultimate stop in Charlotte, North Carolina, it rains so hard, and for so long, that it’s hard to see the streaks running down both his cheeks. They don’t come obviously or immediately. Hardened by two years of campaigning and many more years of self-control, his voice never breaks as he announces the news. “Some of you heard that my grandmother who helped raise me passed away early this morning,” he says calmly. “Look, she has gone home. And she died peacefully in her sleep, with my sister at her side. So there’s great joy as well as tears. I’m not going to talk about it too long, because it’s hard a little to talk about.” His face remains composed as he talks about the “bittersweet” sensation of losing his grandmother while his campaign draws to a close. He betrays little emotion as he describes her as “a quiet hero” and sketches out her life story. But when he starts to read his stump speech from his teleprompter, when he talks about the broken politics in Washington, he surreptitiously strokes one cheek with his thumb. He condemns eight years of failed Bush policies, and casually strokes the other cheek. Two minutes later, as the crowd chants “Yes We Can,” he finally takes a handkerchief out of his pocket and wipes his face down. It is one of the rarest moments of the entire election: a display of raw emotion from a candidate whose mask almost never slips before the dozens of cameras that trail him every day. Even then, at his most vulnerable point, he defers the moment and dissipates its impact.
The cracks in his self-control spread to those closest to him. Standing at the back of a leaking tent in a parched yellow field is the candidate’s friend and strategist David Axelrod. “He’s at peace with what happened. It wasn’t unexpected. He just wishes he had some time to deal with it in his own way,” Axelrod says. “But I’m finding this hard right now. The enormity of it all is almost overwhelming. I love him; he’s my friend. This election is ridiculously long and there are many stupid things about it. But you really have to earn the presidency. And he’s been tested. You can’t hide it or fake it.”
Yet the candidate has partly passed
Excerpted from Renegade: The Making of a President by Richard Wolffe All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.