Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated that Michelle Goldberg was a senior correspondent at The American Prospect. Though Goldberg previously worked as a contributing editor at The American Prospect, she is no longer affiliated with the publication.
Upon entering the webinar for Literati Bookstore’s “At Home with Literati: Jonathan Cohn & Michelle Goldberg,” there were three Zoom windows of participants visible. The event coordinator explained the logistics of the event and then swiftly left the call. The other two presenters stuck around for the next hour, exchanging views and opinions on the unexpected survival and durability of the Affordable Care Act. One was columnist Michelle Goldberg calling in from her home in Brooklyn, N.Y. The other was writer and journalist Jonathan Cohn sitting in front of an overflowing bookcase, one of the shelves of which was lined with his new book: “The Ten Year War: Obamacare and the Unfinished Crusade for Universal Coverage.”
Cohn is currently working as a senior national correspondent at HuffPost and was formerly the executive editor of The American Prospect, as well as a senior editor at The New Republic. In 2007, he wrote the book “Sick: The Untold Story of America’s Health Care Crisis.” As listed on his HuffPost bio, Cohn’s writing features “politics and policy with a focus on social welfare.”
Goldberg, who accompanied Cohn in the Zoom event, also has a very impressive list of accomplishments: She is a columnist for The Daily Beast, Slate and The New York Times, and also worked previously as a contributing editor at The American Prospect. Her New York Times bio says that she “was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for public service for reporting on workplace sexual harassment issues.” Goldberg has also written three books herself, two of them award-winning, and her work has been published in The New Yorker, Newsweek, The Nation, The New Republic and The Guardian, among other publications.
Literati’s website positions the book as “the definitive account of the battle over Obamacare, based on interviews with sources who were in the room, from one of the nation’s foremost healthcare journalists.”
To write this comprehensive account, Cohn drew from interviews, private diaries, emails and memos — a testament to his seasoned journalism prowess. The story of the Affordable Care Act is long (12 years!) and twisting, but seems to be quite indicative of the state of United States partisan politics as a whole. Literati’s site summarizes that, at the heart of the issue, “the nation’s most powerful leaders try to reconcile pragmatism and idealism, self-interest and the public good, and ultimately two very different visions for what the country should look like.”
While I have attended multiple “At Home with Literati” events before, this was the first nonfiction book I have seen discussed. Instead of delving into the style, storytelling or even writing process, Goldberg led straight in with a policy-oriented question, completely missing the chance to cater to the bookstore’s literary-loving audience. Though the conversation was highly informative on topics like bipartisan compromises and the disappearance of moderate Republicans, from a student and writer’s standpoint, I would have liked to know a little more about how the book was researched, formulated and written — especially given that the event was hosted by literary-nerds for literary-nerds.
In hindsight, I can see now that this webinar was intended for a very specific slice of the Ann Arbor population, namely those with extensive political and policy knowledge. The level of understanding that both Cohn and Goldberg had for this policy, its creation and its reception at precise moments in its history were impressive and admirable, but ultimately inaccessible to the average college sophomore.
The questions often covered very particular details of policy-making, and at times the shared insight that passed between the speakers felt impenetrable. While I certainly learned a lot, a majority of the information and opinions went over my head. If the goal of the “At Home with Literati” series is to entertain Literati fans at home, then I would say this event fell short.
Daily Arts writer Caroline Atkinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org