Our Affectionate Uncle Barry

Review: 'To Obama, With Love, Joy, Anger, And Hope' by Jeanne Marie Laskas

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• September 29, 2018 5:00 am


Dear President Obama,

Congratulations on the new book! It's so great to see you back in print, comforting the afflicted in these dark times. And my, what a pleasure cruise this must be for you: To Obama, With Love, Joy, Anger, And Hope, by New York Times bestselling author Jeanne Marie Laskas—you didn't even have to lift your famous pen and phone to make it happen.

I had no idea you were such a profuse epistolarian. Answering 10 letters a night during your eight years in office—that's no small feat. It's fascinating reading them in a compilation and seeing how you took pains to correct those who disagreed with your vision, while offering encouragement to those who praised you to high heaven.

One of your detractors might call your dedication to letter writing a mixture of incompetence and neglect with regards to the more important areas of statecraft. But I can't hold it against you. The Iran Deal and the Affordable Care Act be damned: You were this nation's affectionate uncle.

And so cool, too. A loyal husband to Michelle, the woman who worked tirelessly to keep Faygo out of our kids' schools. A world traveler, never finding any reason too slight to jet out to some exotic vacation. Always a great friend to the press—or, "the blob," as your adviser, that chronic sock-forgetter Ben Rhodes, affectionately called us newspapermen. Ah, the memories.

Remember when your good friend Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote that novella-length eulogy for your presidency? How he described that 2016 party where you danced to "Hotline Bling" and cracked jokes about BET to a crowd filled with such luminaries as Janelle Monáe, De La Soul, and Usher? Coates was bedazzled, and so were we all. What a shame that all those pro-life, pro-gun voters frustrated with your eco-friendly regulations, bans, and caps decided to take revenge on you so soon after.

But none of that matters to you now, it seems. I love your post-presidential repose—how Laskas describes those moments when you answer the still-constant stream of fan mail—jeans and a light-blue shirt, unbuttoned at the top, feet up on the coffee table, crossed at the ankles: "the portrait of one relaxed man."

And you should be at ease: It was good for your reputation to keep out of the fray in 2016. Besides, Hillary deserved to be swept under the rug … just like that nasty little Benghazi affair. She wrecked herself, didn't need your help.

But Barry (I hope you don't mind my calling you that; Netflix seemed comfortable with the moniker), I worry about your legacy. You were so hip, but now that you're out of office, the new guys are unwriting your executive orders and stacking the Supreme Court with their judges. Unless they get tired of winning, your legacy might diminish to nothing more than your personal Spotify playlists and Common's NPR Tiny Desk concert in the White House.

Not that that would be so bad. You valued being suave before all else: You were the king of late-night comedy shows, the tieless wonder of the golf course, the Playmobil president with his own Truman Show. While the interior of this country collapsed into prolonged joblessness and dependency on opioids, you encouraged us not to give up hope by advertising ObamaCare on Between Two Ferns. Classic. You deserve great books, magazine articles, and movies to memorialize—and proselytize—your unflappable sense of cool.

And so many have already been written! To Obama is just a minor entry in a new canon of literature devoted to your memory. The best is Rhodes's The World As It Is. If Jonathan Franzen's Freedom is "the first great novel of the post-Obama era," then Rhodes's memoir is surely the second. Its glowing descriptions of how you negotiated both the vast currents of history and specific power dynamics in a terror-wracked world elevates your story above the heads of common statesmen to the stuff of high tragedy—Don DeLillo-grade dystopia.

Even I have added a small offering to the shrine—have you seen my video tribute on Twitter? It's not much, but then, compared to you, none of us are.

Your dear nephew,


Published under: Book reviews