Ed Klein on Clinton, Kenya, Wright--and Obama
On Tuesday, against the backdrop of the Wisconsin recall election, Breitbart News interviewed Ed Klein, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller The Amateur: Barack Obama in the White House. We discussed Klein’s own politics, his methods in researching his subject, and the reasons the mainstream media failed to vet the president when it first had the opportunity during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Breitbart News: You’ve encapsulated the Obama presidency in a memorable sentence in your introduction to the book: “We come to know a strange kind of politician, one who derives no joy from the cut and thrust of politics, but who clings to the narcissistic life of the presidency.” Was that your view of Barack Obama when you started your research?
Ed Klein: No, it was something I developed over the course of my research. I interviewed nearly two hundred people--many either present or former members of the Obama administration, from various departments, from both sides of the aisle. And it became very clear to me, from talking to all of these people, that here is a man who is temperamentally unsuited to the presidency. He loved the campaigning and the adulation on the hustings, but when it came to actually having to deal with the give-and-take of daily politics, he didn’t seem to have the skill set or even the will to do it. Unlike, say, Lyndon Johnson--who, by contrast, was not a good speaker, and didn’t speak well from the teleprompter, and didn’t have the charisma the way Barack Obama does. But Johnson knew where the levers of power in Washington lay, and he knew how to manipulate them. This president doesn’t know, and if he does, is not interested in soiling his hands with the day to day business of horse-trading, which is the basis of politics in any country.
I’m also reminded of Ronald Reagan, who at the end of the day would call [Democratic Speaker of the House] Tip O’Neill and invite him over to the White House and they’d have a drink together, the Democratic speaker of the house and the Republican president. They certainly were adversaries, and yet when they sat down over a bottle of bourbon, they told jokes and talked about their families and talked about what they needed to do: Tip--to get votes to the floor; Reagan--to back a bill that would bring, ;incrementally, what he wanted.
This president doesn’t do any of that–he outsources, and doesn’t reach out beyond hiscircle of tight Chicago chums. He doesn’t even like to look at the cable news networks. It’s beneath him. His wife constantly says she has no interest in politics, but she herself is a political figure. I think what she means is that somehow the Obamas are entitled to getting their way, that somehow the Obamas have had to descend to the political realm.
When speaking to foreign leaders, the president complains about having to get approval from a congressman from “Podunk City,” or “Palukaville.” He uses those terms.
Breitbart News: Some people have been surprised by your evident opposition to the president. At the end of the book, you urge the Republican Party to follow a particular path. Were your political views changed by writing the book?
Ed Klein: I’m a registered Independent. I’ve been personally right-of-center for, I would say, forty years--certainly since the Vietnam War, when I was foreign editor of Newsweek. I don’t consider myself a Republican, I don’t consider myself a Democrat. In this particular case I identify with the Republican cause because I want to see Obama defeated. There’s a misconception about me as a liberal, probably because I worked for Newsweek and the New York Times. From 1969-1976, I was foreign editor of Newsweek, and then I was the assistant managing editor until 1977. During that period of time, Newsweek was not what it has become today. The foreign coverage and the news coverage were not what I would call left-wing at all. At the New York Times, the executive editor from 1977 to 1988 was AM Rosenthal. He hired me. That paper was not a left-wing paper at the time. It was not the Times of today--it was a very balanced paper. And the magazine was open to people like Norman Podhoretz as well as left-wing people. So having been at those places, people think that I come from a liberal journalistic bent. Also, I live in New York, and journalism in New York is notoriouslyleft wing, and the vast majority of my friends are liberals. But after I wrote "The Truth About Hillary," I was literally disinvited from many parties, and shunned by a number of people–fellow journalists who wouldn’t have anything to do with me because I didn’t follow the party line. Just as Reagan once said, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left me,” I didn’t leave the liberal establishment...
Breitbart News: Speaking of the Clintons, there is suspicion that Bill Clinton is undermining Barack Obama by praising him while slipping in subtle digs at the administration or praise for Mitt Romney. Do you think that is true?
Ed Klein: I don’t think it’s conscious. I don’t think he’s consciously undermining the campaign. However, I would say without any question that the Clintons and the Obamas are the Hatfields and McCoys of the Democratic Party. These two powerful political clans have been at war with each other ever since the bruising 2008 primary. And that feud continues to go on, because Bill’s still smarting from what happened in 2008, and from being portrayed by the Obamas as a racist. He does think that this president is an amateur, that Obama comes from the far-left wing of the party, whereas Clinton comes from the center-left. But, here’s the point: Bill feels he has no choice but to be a loyal, true-blue soldier in this campaign if he wants the party to rally behind him and Hillary in 2016. If he doesn’t campaign for Obama he’ll be seen as a person who is carrying a grudge, and who is not being a loyal party member. But Bill also accomplishes something that is close to what you were just saying. By appearing with Obama, ipso facto, it seems to me, people make comparisons when they are on the stage together. Here’s a president whose record of growth is fantastic compared to Obama’s record; here’s a president with a record of working with the Republicans and getting things done, as opposed to Obama’s inability to work with the Republicans–so I think Clinton outshines him. His kind comments about Romney are slips of the tongue and indications from his unconscious about his true feelings.
Breitbart News: We released a story last month about how the president’s literary agent printed a booklet that claimed Barack Obama had been born in Kenya. We don’t think he was, but we did think the agent had either made a mistake, or Obama had made the misleading claim himself. Does that fit your profile of Obama’s character?
Ed Klein: I happen to agree. I am guessing that this entry in the agent’s pamphlet was not done without Obama’s okay, and that at that time Obama was capitalizing on the idea that he was an exotic guy from Kenya. It doesn’t make sense otherwise. They had to get that idea from him. That’s where his father is from. They could have said “Africa.&rdquo But they didn’t–they said “Kenya.” I pin the tail on that particular donkey. He was going around--like Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts today--trying to look multicultural.
Breitbart News: There have also been recent reports that David Axelrod once had a physical confrontation with Attorney General Eric Holder, which had to be broken up by Valerie Jarrett. Is that true? Would you consider it possible, given your research?
Ed Klein: It’s certainly plausible. I have no idea if it is true. We know that Jarrett scolded [former White House press secretary] Robert Gibbs over complaints that he was not efficient enough in clearing the First Lady of saying that she hated life in the White House. I think there has been a lot of tension in this White House between those in the political crew from Chicago who have really been a powerful force in this white house (David Plouffe, Gibbs, Jarrett) and their influence over the policy people (and I would include Holder in that policy group even though you and I might have an ironic smile on our faces when we talk about his activities as “policy”). But I’m sure he thinks of Obama as a policy guy. And the policy people have been thwarted again and again. [Former Chief of Staff, now Chicago mayor] Rahm Emanuel tells his friends that he hates Jarrett. That’s pretty strong language. [Former Chief of Staff] Bill Daley--he made efforts to bring about a meeting with [then-Archbishop] Tim Dolan--he and Vice President Biden were eager to try to get the president to back off the contraception mandate. Deep in the thick of it, the Chief of Staff has to get Valerie Jarrett’s approval to meet with the president. This has hardly been picked up: she went to the president, she screamed and carried on, and Daley was chastised for it. I think the story of Holder and Axelrod going at each other is not beyond belief.
Breitbart News: There are other stories about Obama’s past that have yet to come out, such as the infamous “Khalidi tape,” which has been withheld by the Los Angeles Times. What are your thoughts on that story?
Ed Klein: I assume it’s true, and I assume that it’s one more example of the MSM being in the tank for Obama. But think about it. In my book, I have a taped recording of the president’s longtime pastor saying that the president’s best friend offered him money to shut up during the 2008 campaign. And not one single outlet of the mainstream media has looked into this. In the sole instance, Jake Tapper of ABC.com--which is not the same as ABC News--exchanged emails with Obama’s friend Eric Whitaker, and Whitaker responded by saying he did not offer some sort of a bribe. That’s not a denial. It’s possible that he doesn’t think of it as a bribe, but he doesn’t say he didn’t send an email, or an offer of money. And even when ABC.com ran that story, they didn’t call me, and ABC News didn’t pick up the story.
Now, if Whitaker offered Wright money, and then the candidate visited Wright and reiterated the desire to get him to shut up, it’s possible Obama could have confirmed the offer. We don’t know. But if George W. Bush had attended a white supremacist church--and not only attended a white supremacist church, but actually had a personal relationship with the pastor of that church, and visited him personally hundreds of times and asked him for advice, then had his best friend, whoever that may be, offer this guy a bribe--would that now be on the front page of every newspaper in the country? Of course it would. So where are they? That’s why the fact that the Khalidi tapes have not been released doesn’t surprise me.
Breitbart News: How would you explain the behavior of journalists towards Obama? Someone asked me recently whether I really believed that journalists had a particular malicious agenda. Some do--but most just have an abstract political sense that reflects the mood around them.
Ed Klein: I agree with you. It’s sort of like being a prostitute--and I want to be clear, I’m not calling journalists prostitutes. But you wait around a lot until you’re tapped to do your business. And a lot of chit-chat goes on in newsrooms. At lunches. Cocktail parties, dinners. They don’t lecture each other, but the conversations that happen--you don’t think people made fun of George W. Bush in the newsrooms? You don’t think that Ronald Reagan was snickered at as an incompetent by journalists in the newsrooms, at parties? It’s in the atmosphere, it’s in the conversation. So if you want to be a member of the club, you learn the lingo. You learn the bent. If you don’t hold the line, if you stray from the line, you’re the worst kind of person--you’re an apostate. So they want to burn you at the stake. So that gets it back to me, given the fact that I had been at the New York Times, and I do write for Vanity Fair. In the eyes of many who don’t understand where I’ve been for many years, I’m an apostate. Take, for example, the review of my book in the Times. The book is not criticized--it’s me, personally. I’m an awful person, in [the reviewer’s] eyes. For being a heretic.
Those who had always been on the right don’t get the same kind of treatment as those who seemed to be part of the mainstream media fraternity. So many of my friends are media people. Many of them are still my friends. But many have been unable to accept there’s a difference of opinion among friends.
Breitbart News: In any book with photographs, it’s tempting to look at the pictures before you read the text. You ran a picture of Al Capone along with pictures of Obama. Wasn’t that a bit provocative?
Ed Klein: I took after the Wall Street Journal, which ran the same or a similar photo--I found it amusing, tongue-in-cheek. I thought it made a point by being a little over the top.
Breitbart News: One of the boldest things you do in the book is tackle the President on foreign policy. You make a very strong case that despite killing Osama bin Laden, Obama is failing on foreign policy. Why did you choose to make that a focus?
Ed Klein: The myth that Obama’s a better foreign policy president is necessary because he’s been such a bad domestic policy president. They did get their man. They got Osama bin Laden. Even George W. Bush would have crowed about it. Obama did what any president would have done in his shoes. Any president would have done it, when confronted with the risk of failure. He was advised that it was better to obliterate the compound, and he chose to send in a team. Good for him, he did it. If John McCain were president, he would have done it. I think even John Kerry would have done it. I’m not taking away from the value of what he did. His use of drones has been an intensification of the war on terror, and has been effective and has been a very low-cost thing.
But he doesn’t know what to do with terrorist prisoners, for example. He’s spoken so forcefully against Gitmo--but he can’t send the prisoners away to CIA safehouses, which he’s discontinued. The drones have wiped out a lot of terrorists, but they have also been a convenient way to pursue the war without resolving the Guantanamo issue, among others. He is also compensating for his failure to act positively and forcefully when there was an uprising in Iran; for his dithering over Libya and then following France and Britain’s lead; for his inability to capitalize on the original Arab spring. Our reputation in the Middle East is actually worse today than under George W. Bush. He’s getting out of Iraq, leaving it to Iranian influence, which is one of the most disastrous moves of his presidency. He’s trying to appease Vladimiar Putin--that open mic comment to Dmitry Medvedev that he’d be more flexible after the election was not just a boneheaded thing to say, with or without a mic on, but was a disaster similar to JFK’s poor performance with Krushchev--and just in general, Obama’s perceived as a weak president from a declining power.
Breitbart News: As we are speaking now, two outcomes remain in doubt: the recall election against Scott Walker, and the Supreme Court decision on Obamacare. How do those issues reflect the thesis of your book?
Ed Klein: I’m not sure that the Walker recall reflects Obama’s amateurism. It reflects something larger, which is the atmosphere of this country regarding the power of public unions to hold states and federal government to ransom. One of the points I make in the book is that not only is Obama an amateur, but he’s an amateur who doesn’t undertstand that he’s out of sync ideologically with the direction of the country, which is that we must rein in these out-of-control pensions and salaries and power of the public sector unions. He cannot be on that side, because his very base are the unions themselves--who are more than welcome at the White House, which SEIU president Andy Stern visited more than anybody else. And then as far as Obamacare is concerned--clearly, again, he could have gotten a lot done in terms of heath care if he had been willing to meet the other side halfway. Instead, he pushed this thing through under very questionable procedures. I think it’s going to be called unconstitutional later this month.
Breitbart News: What would you say to those who might contend that Obama is not an “amateur,” but a canny, radical ideologue who knows exactly what he is doing?
Ed Klein: I don’t disagree--I am just saying that by the testimony of everyone in Congress, whether Democrat leadership or Republican leadership, the entire White House press corps, and commentators I admire, this guy shows zero thrill and joy and fulfillment in doing the hard day-to-day work of reaching out and getting things done in a political manner. He doesn’t like politics, doesn’t find himself at ease, doesn’t like to be told he’s wrong, doesn’t like to have to throw his arm around somebody and schmooze. In my book, I quote House Speaker John Boehner as saying that this is the most opaque White House ever, run by people who don’t have the skill set to be politically effective. There are those who argue that Obama has already accomplished a lot of his far-left wing agenda, with regulatory orders, Dodd-Frank, and so on. He has gotten some of those things through when he had the majority. But he’s a non-negotiable guy.
Breitbart News: Let’s close with a question about your methodology. You rely heavily on interviews rather than documentary evidence--and, admittedly, many documents and videos are being hidden. How do you think that affected the accuracy of your account?
Ed Klein: I did see a compilation of videos from Obama’s days in the state senate. I didn’t find anything that stunning or interesting. I couldn’t get Obama’s Columbia records. I sent researchers to many different libraries, including tracking down Mrs. Obama at Princeton. I looked into Valerie Jarrett’s background--spent a great deal of time on that--and came up dry. It proved very frustrating and very difficult to find the kind of documentation that you are talking about, other than that which may already have been available, other than that which made the book. In my long, long chapter on Obama and American Jews, I have raw, original notes taken by someone who was in the White House room, with Obama, when there was a discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These are contemporaneous notes, and original research. There’s also the tape recorded conversation with Jeremiah Wright. So I do think that there’s nothing quite like finding documents that back up your thesis. But all of our historical documents were originally people’s reminiscences. So I found that one-on-one interviews can be as valuable, or sometimes more valuable, than documents.