To hear veterans of the Obama administration tell it now, life inside the White House during those halcyon days was like hanging out in the writers' room at The Simpsons or Late Night With David Letterman. The jokes flew thick and fast, the mood was light, and all anyone had to worry about was saving the global economy from collapse.
Pat Cunnane, a senior writer for the president, is the latest to weigh in with a memoir of those happier times. West Winging It (Gallery Books, 310 pp., ★★★ out of four) has the snappy, sunny vibe of a period that ended less than two years ago but seems like another century.
Cunnane's biggest crises revolve around having his driver's license rejected as proof of age before Secret Service agents while ordering a drink at the Moana Surfrider resort in Honolulu or watching the final day of the Tour de France.
Such is the Obamastalgia resonating from veterans of that White House and fellow Democrats in the time of Trump, when a story that would then have been a months-long scandal is now just another Tuesday.
As David Litt, his fellow speechwriter, did in his memoir, Thanks, Obama, Cunnane shows that life inside the White House — close to major decisions made that shape the world each day but not intimately involved in them — is often mundane and boring. It's like an episode of The Office, only with the Secret Service whispering into their cuffs instead of the occasional bumbling Dunder Mifflin security guard.
Young people, such as the fresh-out-of-school Cunnane, ascend to positions of relevant power and influence despite their age. They worry about what most young people worry about — relationships, money and a decent place to live. Only they do it near the president of the United States, aka POTUS.
In Cunnane's case, he fretted before a state dinner with British Prime Minister David Cameron about when to propose to his longtime girlfriend. "Maybe it was the formal wear and the dancing, the toasts and the swanky tables," Cunnane writes of the moment. "It could have been David Cameron's charm or singer John Legend's very public displays of affection for his date, model Chrissy Teigen, just beyond the view of the press pool. Whatever it was, I was in the mood for a wedding of my own, and I decided to quit obfuscating in front of my friends."
He proposed to her shortly afterward at the White House. It beats the offices of Dunder Mifflin.
But, as Cunnane writes, all of that came crashing down with the election of Donald Trump. It was a harsh lesson for these young aides, who had mostly known only the elation of victory, what Democratic operatives from the 1970s and 1980s knew in their marrow.
Winning is difficult; losing is agony; you're only as smart as your last campaign win. Their president knew that. "History doesn't move in a straight line," Obama told his team shortly before he left office. "It zigs and zags."
Cunnane, now a writer on Designated Survivor starring Keifer Sutherland, shows how hard that lesson is to learn, but also how vital.
Ray Locker is the Washington enterprise editor of USA TODAY and author of Nixon's Gamble: How a President's Own Secret Government Destroyed His Administration and the upcoming Haig's Coup.