Stephen Reader covers politics for It's a Free Country, WNYC's interactive politics site. He joined the station in 2010 and has also worked for Studio 360, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning show about art, culture, and creativity.
(If you're interested in more about "O" our friends at Studio 360 are trying to get to the bottom of who the anonymous author is.)
The new book O: A Presidential Novel tells the story of an incumbent president named 'O' seeking reelection in 2012. It's an anonymous (yes, anonymous) author's attempt to imagine what's going on in the political landscape—and the president's head—at the end of his first term.
Even though O assumed it wouldn't happen, he wished The Barracuda, as he liked to think of her, would join the Republican race. O knew they wouldn’t be that lucky, but he had let himself imagine such a contest. He had watched her speak to a rally of her faithful. There she was, thick hair piled up high, chin out, defiant, taunting, flaunting that whole lusty librarian thing, sweet and savory, mother and predator, alluring and dangerous. Intrigued as he was by the prospect of personal encounters with her, more intriguing still was the notion of running against the perfect embodiment of the opposition -- those who saw him as an overeducated and pampered snob.
He gave a speech late in the first year of his presidency, when he was still consumed with the monumental task of getting health care reform through. Republicans were calling him a socialist and accusing him of trying to pull the plug on grandma’s life support. Liberals were denouncing him as a faux progressive for not insisting on a public health insurance option he didn’t have the votes to pass. They preferred to see another Democratic president fail to pass health care reform rather than compromise on a single element of their ideal reform. That was the first time he saw one of the signs, which soon become popular bumper stickers in the gentrified working class neighborhoods where the newest generation of overeducated, under-employed and uncompromising progressives lived in a state of perpetual agitation....
Where’s the change, brother? it read, and O smiled when he saw it. He wouldn’t let a childish attempt at impudence crack his composure, and imagined his unspoken response.
I am all the change you’re going to get. Brother.
In Washington all calamities, and the opportunities they offered for social progress, were absorbed by its rituals and reconstituted into scale weights in hourly recalculations of power’s dispersal, which obsessed its every constituent part. Little distinction was made between appearance and fact or the trivial and the significant. Paradoxes threatened to suffo-cate every initiative. Everything mattered and nothing mattered. Every-thing was urgent and nothing had priority. Hurry up! Not so fast! You forgot about this! You’re attempting too much! All his efforts to encour-age a more reasonable governing environment were met with hostility from the opposition and indifference from his supporters, and his fail-ures were grist for the media’s hourly grind of hyperbole, conflict, and agitprop. And every day the final measure of everything was attributed to him, personally. Did he succeed or fail? Did he keep his promise or break it? Christ, was there ever a less self-reflective place? Despite universal protestations to the contrary, no one here really wanted him to change Washington, only preside over it more successfully than the last guy had.