‘This Is Our Moment’

Alan Brinkley in The New York Times:

Brinkley-500 For most of the last eight years, and indeed for much of the last three decades, American liberals have been on the defensive — so much so that many have renamed themselves “progressives” as if to ward off the taint of their beleaguered past. Political books from the left have flourished since 2001, but almost all of them have been critiques of the Bush administration, interrupted briefly and halfheartedly by the Kerry campaign of 2004. But with astonishing speed during the 2008 campaign, and largely in response to the rise of Barack Obama, the liberal-progressives have begun to mount a full-throated revival.

In the absence so far of an actual Democratic presidency, hopeful liberals have focused on the extraordinary success of Obama’s campaign and on a highly optimistic interpretation of his rhetoric. Three of the books discussed in this review were written and published (with great speed) before or just after the election, and the other is a recently republished agenda for liberals that first appeared shortly after the 2006 Congressional elections. Together, they offer a portrait of how liberals have come prospectively to envision the Obama presidency as a transformative moment in American history.

For sheer speed and competence, the most impressive of these recent books is Evan Thomas’s “ ‘Long Time Coming,’ ” compiled from the reporting of the political writers of Newsweek (a magazine for which I occasionally write). A perceptive, smoothly written and generally fair-­minded account of both presidential campaigns, it is, nevertheless, a contribution to the creation of the superhero image that has surrounded Obama over the last six months. In describing his important speech on race in March 2008, for example, the Newsweek writers (who are far from alone) describe a “tour de force,” the “sort of speech that only Barack Obama could give.” Afterward, “he found everyone in tears — his wife, his friends, hardened campaign aides. Only Obama seemed cool and detached.”

More here.