Journalist and author Peter Baker returned to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library on February 13, 2018 on the campus of University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Baker presented a lecture on his new book “Obama: The Call of History”, a vivid and in-depth illustrated account of Barack Obama’s eight years as President of the United States.
Peter Baker is the Chief White House Correspondent for The New York Times (NYT) and is a two-time winner of the Gerald R. Ford Journalism Award for Distinguished Reporting on the Presidency. He previously covered the White House for the Washington Post during the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush presidencies. Baker also covered the Commissioning of the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) aircraft carrier which was attended by President Donald Trump and members of the Ford Family.
In discussing the reasons for his new book, Baker highlights how the NYT wanted Baker to help write captions for various photos for a coffee table illustrative set. The project developed into a book which delved into what the Obama Presidency meant to the country and its place in history. Baker worked with NYT photographers, including Doug Mills and Stephen Crowley, to fashion together a pictorial history of the Obama Presidency along with his written additions.
The book centers on the continued discussion of “Who is Barack Obama”. With his first book, “Dreams from my Father”, Obama himself discussed who he thought he was in American society in terms of race, culture, and history. In terms of former presidents he has been compared to Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Ronald Reagan amongst others.
Baker acknowledged that Obama was the first introvert President since Jimmy Carter, as he was more reserved, straight to the point, and did not emotionally connect with everyone in the room the way Bill Clinton and George W. Bush did. Obama did not enjoy working rope lines like Clinton for example, but yet he was very human in the way he was a family man. He regularly went to his daughters’ basketball games and went home for dinner as much as possible.
While moving through the eight-years of the Obama Presidency in the book, Baker connects the audience with pivotal insights, moments and decisions of the Obama White House including: how Obama was a better speaker to larger crowds than smaller; how he became the only President in history to nominate and confirm two women the U.S. Supreme Court; his failure to complete his campaign promise to shutdown Guantanamo Bay; how Obama just being President changed history and inspired Americans as the first African-American President; the capture of Osama bin Laden; his change in foreign policy with the fall of Qaddafi in Libya; his relationship with Vice President Joe Biden; how his family was seen by the country as a loving unit; how Syria possibly is Obama’s biggest regret; immigration; First Lady Michelle Obama; Civil Rights and Gay Rights; when he became the first President to visit a Federal prison and his criminal justice reform efforts; and his relationships with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Baker concluded his remarks with audience Q&A on the Presidency, party politics, Barack Obama, and President Donald Trump.