SO HE EDITS the country’s most prestigious magazine. So he’s just written the definitive biography so far of the new century’s most important figure—The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama. So his publisher put him up at the poshest hotel in Seattle. When The New Yorker’s David Remnick ambled downstairs for his close-up and interview, he looked like the sportswriter he once was. Jeans and sockless sneakers. A black T-shirt and a sweater of indeterminate beige. A wry smile and roll of the eyes. “I think they call it oatmeal,” he said, gladly doffing the sweater for the photo.
“Let’s go to the deck,” said Remnick, and we found two chairs tucked between a noisy, packed Jacuzzi and a blazing gas-powered fire pit; the Four Seasons staff apparently hadn’t noticed it was the hottest afternoon so far this year. Remnick savored the Olympic vista, offered to hold the tape recorder since there was nothing to set it on, and pondered the mysteries of Barack Obama’s rise: why America “waited centuries to have anyone other than white Anglo-Saxon Protestant males and one Catholic” in the White House. And why birthers and other holdouts still won’t accept the fact. “I think it’s people who are psychologically resistant to change, who have an atavistic and nostalgic notion of what this country is and what its majority race and culture are. But it’s not a majority of the country. I don’t even think it’s a majority of the Tea Party movement .”
With Obama immersed in the sturm, drang, and sausage making of the financial crisis, there’s something nostalgic about recalling how he got there—the uproar, say, over his ex-pastor Jeremiah Wright, who tells his side in The Bridge. But Remnick clearly hopes the import of Obama’s rise won’t be overshadowed by daily political gyrations. The “bridge” of his title is the one in Selma, Alabama, where, in 1965, the Civil Rights movement overcame its direst violent challenge, and where in 2008 candidate Obama picked up the torch. “Barack Obama,” Selma march leader John Lewis told Remnick, “is what comes at the end of that bridge in Selma.”
Remnick had his own march, speed-writing this 656-page, closely reported saga while performing his high-wire day job. He thanks able colleagues, “an extremely indulgent family, and an extremely hardworking espresso machine…. It was just this side of too much.” But the tale needed telling while Obama’s presidency was still young, and Remnick needed to get on with his own life. Not that he seems quite over Obama’s. When we finished, he asked the way to Capitol Hill and Mercer Island—two places Ann Dunham, Obama’s mother, once lived, and a little ground he apparently hadn’t covered yet.
To read more from our conversation with Remnick, click HERE.