Friday, February 8, 2008

On the coffee table – ‘Obama: From Promise to Power’ by David Mendell

Yes, it may be dicey, but I earlier blogged on Carl Bernstein's bio of Hillary, so here goes:

Mendell is a long-time political reporter for the Chicago Tribune, and has been covering Obama since he first ran for the Illinois State Senate. Before I tell you what I cleaned from the book, I’m going to give a quote from Mendell:

“What the public has yet to see clearly is his hidden side: his imperious, mercurial, self-righteous and sometimes prickly nature, each quality exacerbated by the enormous career pressures he has inflicted upon himself. He can be cold and short with reporters who he believes have given him unfair coverage. He is an extraordinarily ambitious, competitive man with … a career reach that seems to have no bounds. He is, in fact, a many of raw ambition so powerful that even his is still coming to terms with its full force.”

Beyond that, here’s some specific takes from Mendell:

First, Obama’s sometime lack of specificity on policy issues is nothing new.

Second, Obama’s attendance at a Chicago antiwar rally, according to Mendell, while it had a degree of idealism behind it, also had a degree of political calculation involved.

Third, Obama did pass some bills in his last term in the Illinois Senate to bolster his U.S. Senate campaign. Specifically, despite his strong stance on gun controls, he sponsored a bill to let retired cops have concealed carry. Why? To get the endorsement of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, which he did.

Add it all up, and I see a Barack Obama of dichotomy. From his family background, international experiences and more, a person of more idealism than many politicians, even with some tempering. At the same time, as Mendell describes, he’s a politician who can fight tough, and will.

The dichotomy? The two sides don’t seem to converse with each other a lot, at least in Mendell’s observation, which I think exacerbates the thin-skinnedness. For those of you who have read Jack Tapper’s “Obama the Messiah” blog, I think his distancing of the press could backfire on him due to things like this.

Finally, if you’re going to compare Obama to a Kennedy, it’s Bobby, not Jack. Same amount of Senate experience at the time of campaigning for president. Same dichotomous mix, or non-mixing, of idealism and bare-knuckle politics. Same drivenness — Bobby had that same type of charismatic energy in a way Jack didn’t.