Reviews for The Last Politician

by Franklin Foer

Publishers Weekly
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President Biden is a master of the kind of practical politicking that yields transformational results, according to this effusive rundown of his first two years in office. Atlantic journalist Foer (World Without Mind) credits Biden with “the most fertile legislative season in memory,” including the passage of the American Rescue Plan stimulus bill; a huge infrastructure bill; the CHIPS Act, which aims to reboot semiconductor manufacturing; and the Inflation Reduction Act, a clean energy milestone. Drawing on interviews with policymakers and writing in whip-smart, evocative prose, Foer presents a canny insider’s account of Washington, full of backroom wrangling and posturing. Biden presides in grand fashion, “nose-counting, horse-trading, and spreading a thick layer of flattery” to clinch deals, especially with his great antagonist, Sen. Joe Manchin, whom he handles with a mixture of jawboning—”Joe, if you don’t come along, you’re really fucking me,” growled Biden when Manchin balked at the American Rescue Plan—and incentives (after Manchin voted for the ARP, Foer reports, Biden appointed his wife to a paid post on the Appalachian Regional Commission). Foer sometimes lapses into hero worship, calling Biden “the West’s father figure” and “a man for his age.” Still, his portrait of “the old hack who could” enacting a vigorous and far-reaching agenda is a stimulating corrective to right-wing caricatures of Biden as an inert near-invalid. (Sept.)

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A chronicle of two fateful years in the White House. Based on interviews with nearly 300 people in the inner circle of the Biden administration, as well as abundant published sources and government records, Atlantic staff writer Foer offers a brisk, detailed history of the president’s first two years in office, a crucial period that saw blunders and triumphs, deft maneuvering and lucky breaks. As the author sees it, Biden, whose “expertise was nose counting, horse trading, and spreading a thick layer of flattery over his audiences,” succeeded in his own heartfelt goal of proving “the eternal relevance of politics.” Among the president’s successes were the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, with a focus on climate change; the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines throughout the country; the confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court; and decisive leadership among the West over Ukraine. Foer examines Biden’s relationship with his vice president, Kamala Harris; and his protracted negotiations with Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who mounted strong opposition to Biden’s Build Back Better plan, and with Pramila Jayapal, a leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who did not want the plan watered down. While domestic challenges focused on Build Back Better, combatting the pandemic, and dealing with inflation, Biden faced critical foreign challenges. From longtime service as the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee and eight years as vice president, Biden developed a “swaggering sense of his own wisdom about the world beyond America’s borders.” He was intent on withdrawing from Afghanistan, generating much debate about the consequences of leaving that nation to the Taliban. What Biden hoped would be an “orderly departure” resulted in chaos and a blight on the presidency. Acknowledging that Biden’s “great strength is his empathy,” Foer also sees that his verbal missteps and volubility have remained as shortcomings for the “Irish raconteur.” Overall, the author creates a respectful portrait of a savvy, dedicated politician. A deeply researched political history and biography. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.