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Comments: Week of November 18, 2013


1. In last week’s cover story, an excerpt from John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s 2012 campaign chronicle ­Double Down, Obama and his team ­struggled to make sure he didn’t repeat his lackluster first-debate performance, since his aides feared two duds in a row might sink his campaign (The ­Intervention,” November 11). “I just don’t know if I can do this,” the president said the night before the ­second debate. “I’m wired in a different way than this event requires.” “I don’t remember if I’m supposed to like Double Down or not, but the excerpt was awesome fun,” tweeted Derek Thompson of The Atlantic, making a crack about how much of a touchstone the book had become among political journalists even in its first few days on sale. “It is a testament to the authors that in an era when the most minute details of a ­presidential campaign are chronicled in endless tweets and seemingly instant e-books, they have published an old-fashioned print product filled with new revelations,” lauded Dylan Byers in his blog at Politico. “It is all the more impressive that they managed to do that for an election that was seen as far less compelling than the 2008 campaign.” “They are extremely good at reporting catchy details. The excerpt is full of entire scenes of newly reported interactions and engaging conversations,” noted Isaac Chotiner at The New Republic, though he had some issues with it as well. “Is there evidence to back up the mounting worry that Obama was letting the election slip away? Not really. To their credit, Heilemann and Halperin spend a good bit of time on his distaste for politics, which comes across as some combination of admirable and tiresome. Getting Obama’s comments is a major coup, but the authors can’t quite figure out how to integrate it into their analysis.”

2. “Could this film possibly preach to the unconverted?” asked Frank Rich in an essay on race, history, and 12 Years a Slave, which left him in tears but also wondering whether a movie like this could make a difference in the way Americans regard slavery and race (Liberal Echo Chamber,” November 11). “People are already aware of the brutality of slavery. Another, even more graphic depiction is not going to change anyone’s opinion or knowledge of the past,” wrote one reader. “The missing component is not in our understanding of the past, it is in the understanding of the present.” “Films should go on telling the stories of historical cruelty and oppression they tell,” argued another. “Ignorant hateful people will not stop encouraging more ignorance and hate—they never go away completely. Films also never go away completely, either, and no matter how much impact they do or do not have in concrete terms, they matter.

3. “As grief settled on the town, so did money,” and “very quickly, the matter of disbursing these funds became ­something else, a proxy fight over how to evaluate grief,” Lisa Miller wrote, in a visit to Newtown eleven months after the ­horrific shooting that left 26 in an ­elementary school dead (Orders of Grief,” ­November 11). “From the lives lost down to the petty fighting over fund money, this is one of the most heartbreaking articles in recent memory,” wrote one reader on Most of the other commenters focused on that second part, about the outpouring of goodwill and support in the aftermath of the tragedy. “I’m not getting why all these people were sending money,” wrote one. “All victimhood aside, Newtown was and is a community of rich people.” (“Relatively well-off” is probably more accurate.) Answered another, and quickly: “Because people feel powerless and they don’t know what to do. So they send gifts/money. Is that so difficult to understand?” A third reader wondered: “iTunes and Starbucks gift cards? I don’t understand people who send stuff like that. Could there be anything less meaningful? If you want to help, help. Do something. Even better—do it in your own community. Stop this from happening again. Don’t send another damn stuffed bear.

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