Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Obama Revolution by Alan Kennedy-Shaffer

The Obama RevolutionThe Obama Revolution
by Alan Kennedy-Shaffer

March 1st 2009 by Phoenix Books
Paperback, 256 pages
1597776386 (isbn13: 9781597776387)

rating: 3 of 5 stars

There's a disconnect between The Obama Revolution and its author, Alan Kennedy-Shaffer (or AKS, as he was known as an undergrad.) The book is like a legal brief - dry, factual. By comparison, Kennedy-Shaffer is the sort of person to challenge loyalty oaths and pose nude for the Yale student newspaper as a campaign tactic (not the Obama campaign, by the way). An Amazon reviewer accused Kennedy-Shaffer of hubris. And though he may be right, it's difficult not to admire Kennedy-Shaffer's success.


The Obama Revolution is the first book to be published by a staffer from the Barack Obama presidential campaign. Kennedy-Shaffer served as a regional field director in Virginia. In this, his second book, he presents an overview of Obama's campaign, its successes, and the platforms on which Obama ran. By "present," I mean he very nearly quotes the entirety of Change We Can Believe In, a book by Obama staffers about "Barackism," which includes most of Obama's speeches prior to the Democratic National Convention. Also included in The Obama Revolution are Obama's Speeches for Change. Throw in hearty doses of The Audacity of Hope, and Kennedy-Shaffer's own writing is reduced to about a quarter of the actual 230 pages of text.

Granted, Kennedy-Shaffer was the one that pulls all the information, coalescing it into something resembling what college graduates will remember as one of those bothersome research papers. Still, I wouldn't want to be the professor grading this one. It's dry and dense. The tragedy is that Kennedy-Shaffer himself has a a number of insider tales to tell, and a delightful voice of his own that he seems afraid to rely on.

For example, he tells the story of talking to a man in rural Virginia who displayed a Confederate flag on his truck, but who agreed to display Obama signs in his yard after acknowledging that eight years of failed Bush economic policay was enough. Kennedy-Shaffer talked to workers who head to the shipyard at 4 o'clock in the morning. These are real people, the "Joe Plumbers" of Obama's campaign, who touched and were touched by the army of mobilized volunteers working on Obama's behalf. Including Alan Kennedy-Shaffer.

His first-person stories are charming, but too often he turns them into self-promotion, such as mentioning the charge Barack Obama gave him personally or recognizing that God calls "mere mortals" to campaign for change (hmm, wonder if he's self-referencing?) Then again, he's not a writer (foremost), he's a lawyer. The conceit will serve him well.

Still, it's difficult to categorize this book. It's only a little bit "memoir." Non-fiction political science, yes. Analysis, not so much - regurgitation is hardly active examination. Theological reflection, a little. There's a chapter devoted to "Obama's Faith," which is so well written from a progressive theological standpoint I have to assume it's a kiss blown to Kennedy-Shaffer's grandfather The Hon. Rev. Dr. William Bean Kennedy, who was minister, scholar and politician. (He and Alan's mother would take young Alan to gay pride parades in New York City.)


It's like a handbook for the issues we'll see over the next four (let's hope eight) years.

As many of you know, I stood solidly for Obama throught the 2008 election, including devoting my progressive theology blog to campaign coverage (it's since been revamped, but still.) However, the most pressing issue within the election was the sagging economy, and that's the one issue in which I am least versed. Fortunately, I can turn right to Kennedy-Shaffer's chapter on "The Green Deal." He explains with abundant evidence what has been and what could happen, if the right actions are taken step by step. In other words, Kennedy-Shaffer will make you sound like you know what you're talking about - because you will.

If you're a high school or college student, you should pick up this book as a reference for papers.

Kennedy-Shaffer not only outlines the Obama administration's policies, he provides insight into how our generation mobilized to bring about Obama's election. From a sociological standpoint, the use of the internet, blogs, mobile phones is a fascinating change in the way campaigning is done. There will be many courses for which this will be a helpful resource.

If you're a Republican, you should pick up this book to understand how the rest of us think.

If you're politician, you should read this book to understand who you'll be serving with in about five years (Alan, not Barack.)

If you're a minister, you should read this book for sermon fodder.

Lastly, you should read this book because I think it would have made Kennedy-Shaffer's grandfather, who didn't live to see Obama elected, even more proud of his grandson than I'm sure he already was.


The Obama Revolution is a brilliant career move for Kennedy-Shaffer. At worst, it adds another book to his credits, which give him experience with agents and publishers that many aspiring writers would envy. It also gives him a jumping-off point for a future volume, in which he can compare what was promised to what actually happens. And, at best, it puts him squarely within a certain political, ideological camp which will make it easy to identify him should he run for further office. Or, you know, television.

I came across the second stop on Kennedy-Shaffer's Pump Up Your Book Promotion online tour. Jen interviewed Kennedy-Shaffer and was able to elicit a few delightful quips:
Jen: Describe your writing in three words.
Alan: Powerful, poignant, and hopeful. (At least that's what my mother says.
Jen: What's next for you?
Alan: The Daily Show. Hello, Jon Stewart--did you lose my phone number?
Jon Stewart, take note. He's young, he's kinda green, but he's got more than enough ego to make him the next Stephen Colbert. You've been warned.

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