Matt Continetti reviews Jonathan Alter's new book, The Promise, in the most recent issue of Claremont Review of Books:
"He's our kind of guy," Barack Obama said of Timothy Geithner, according to Jonathan Alter's new book, The Promise. What kind of guy is that? The answer says a lot about our president and his administration.
According to Alter, a senior editor at Newsweek magazine, Obama and his future Treasury Secretary bonded immediately. Beyond being born weeks apart in the summer of 1961, "both prided themselves on their unpretentiousness." Both grew up abroad—Obama in Indonesia, Geithner in "Zimbabwe, Zambia, India, and Thailand." Their families also shared a professional connection. "During the 1980s, Geithner's father, Peter Geithner, oversaw the Ford Foundation's micro-credit program and had even once met with one of its Indonesian program officers, S. Ann Dunham-Soetoro, Obama's mother."
Obama liked Geithner because they came from the same place: the world of elite universities, nonprofits, and government activism. This is the world in which Obama is most comfortable. He and Geithner are both products of a meritocracy that emphasizes brain power over the pursuit of profit, and global consciousness rather than American exceptionalism. Membership in this club was enough to form a strong bond between Geithner, a child of privilege, and Obama, a biracial kid from Hawaii who was partly raised by his grandparents. And so Obama has stood by Geithner through scandal and a disappointing economic recovery. To do otherwise, in some sense, would be a betrayal of his class.
The Obama Administration is filled with "our kind of guys." Alter calculates that a full quarter of Obama's political appointees have some connection to Harvard; the six other Ivy League schools are well represented, too. All told, Alter writes, "[m]ore than 90 percent of early appointees had advanced degrees, and only one (whose identity was never released) lacked at least a college degree." Yet, as well schooled as this group may be, it is removed from large tranches of American life. It is heavy on theory and light on practical knowledge. The tradesman and the businessman are nowhere to be seen. At this writing, not a single person "inside the councils of government" has run a publicly traded company.
These inclusions and omissions were no accident. "Obama," Alter writes, "was conflicted about Wall Street and conventional definitions of worldly achievement." He believed in "a different path." He was an intellectual. He was a writer who lived "in thrall to the idea that with enough analysis, there was a ‘right answer' to everything." He had paid no price for resisting the lure of Wall Street and business; his talents and luck had led him to the pinnacle of American politics. The power of his example, Obama believed, would teach America that there are avenues of progress and prosperity beyond commerce and material wealth.
Whole thing here.