I found Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years* on the sidewalk of the East Village in the spring of 2018. I’m thankful for whoever left it for me; I feel connected to him/her because I got a glimpse into their life. On the inside cover, there’s an innocent to-do list: Pick up sunscreen, lip balm, allergy pills. Sounds like a joyous day at a beach surrounded by tree pollen. Then there’s a quaint line: “Buy paper at great little paper shop”. Maybe they were tired of using the inside of books for note-taking.
I’m a liberal snowflake, so the title spoke to me for obvious reasons. The memoir is by David Litt, a young Obama-era speechwriter. He is currently the head writer/producer of Funny or Die and he’s well-respected within the comedy community, evidenced by his impressive back cover endorsements. I’ll include John Mulaney’s since John Mulaney is perfect: “An outstanding, hilarious, and precise memoir, and an excellent account of what it felt like the work for the second to last president of the United States.”
As much as I love a good Trump jab, especially by horse-in-the-hospital Mulaney, I did worry the book would overflow with anti-Trumpisms. I mean-- I don’t like Trump, duh, but I can only handle so much not-hot-take political whining. I turn to Twitter if I want to be sad about policy. In a book, I want anti-Trump rhetoric to be funny or not there at all. Litt does in fact skillfully slide in the Trump comparisons without overstating the obvious.
While Litt wrote many types of speeches for Obama, he was considered the “funny guy” on the speech-writing team. I am surprised at how pertinent “joke writers” were throughout Obama’s presidency. I figured it might only be necessary for the White House correspondents’ dinner, but turns out there were plenty of opportunities where Obama wanted to bring comedy into his speeches. I enjoyed learning about how the speech-writing network operated and Litt explains the power structure well. There are many references to fellow speechwriters, like the Pod Save America dudes. To be honest, I’m a little sick of those guys yapping, but I listen to them anyway because what are podcasts for if not to cram information in your head that you don’t necessarily want or need?
A big perk of Litt’s memoir is insider info. It doesn’t shy away from controversy-- it talks about the problems within the administration, like when the initial roll-out of Obamacare was a disaster, and how the speech-writing team worked to respond. But it also reminds us of all the good things about Obama and I like the glimpse into his interpersonal life.
On the other hand, I think that the memoir is too long and Litt squeezes the juice out of every single possible interaction he had with the president. His writing is relatively down to earth (given that he worked for the most powerful man in the world) and I am interested in most of the stories he tells, but some of it is clearly padding. Overall, Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years receives 3 out of 5 camel humps.
*Litt, David, Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years. New York: HarperCollins, 2017. Print.