Review: The Obama Revolution by Alan Kennedy-Shaffer

My bookshelves are not terribly political. A biography or two, a bit of humor about our political system, but not much else – I figure it’s bad enough I have to see politicians on the news every day, I have no desire to read about them in my leisure time. I accepted The Obama Revolution for review primarily because it came out so close on the heels of the November elections. I thought it would be more interesting to read about a very recent election, one I was very excited about, than to rehash a political contest I barely remembered. For the most part, I was right.
Alan Kennedy-Shaffer is at his best talking about his experiences organizing and campaigning for Barack Obama. He tells some interesting stories about the people he met and the places he traveled, the challenges that the campaign faced as they attempted to organize in an entirely new way. He has great affection for the people he worked with and their mutual commitment to change and to Obama. I wish the book had focused more on this aspect of the campaign.
The book is dense with facts and quotes – too dense, in many places. The quotation marks and footnotes become visually distracting as you work your way through paragraphs. Some quotes and footnotes seemed pointless – for example, when talking about Obama’s early stump speeches, Kennedy-Shaffer says they lacked “detailed, real-world specifics.” Was it really necessary to quote and footnote someone else to say “detailed, real-world specifics”? It gets tedious, and the sheer volume of footnotes ensured that I didn’t bother to check on the sources for many, many things.
The most enlightening part of the book, for me, was the clear explanation of the 50 State Plan, as it applied to Obama’s campaign. I have a far better explanation of the steps that Howard Dean initiated, how they differed from the way campaigns had been run in the past, and how the Obama campaign took those ideas even further. Of course, I heard talk about it during the election, but I never really understood how fundamentally it differed from the standard campaign strategy. It certainly give me some insight into how the Democratic party plans to move forward over the next four years.
Another highlight of the book: 10 of Barack Obama’s key speeches, reprinted at the back of the book. Nice to be able to revisit key moments and look more carefully at exactly what our President had to say in the lead-up to the election.
All in all, I found this an interesting read. A little heavy on rehashing the campaign literature, but some of the analysis is enlightening. I would have enjoyed hearing more about life on the front lines of the campaign, because those were great stories, but that is, I suppose, a different kind of book.

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