My inaugural piece for the Sunday Times is now online. It's my best shot at understanding the man again as what once seemed unimaginable takes place before our eyes. Money quote:
He doesn’t charm like Clinton did and Bush tried to. Unlike both men, but especially Clinton, he appears to have no need to be loved by everyone in the room. He often finds it hard to disguise how tired he feels. He is capable of evoking enormous inspiration, but he has yet to be able to hide it when he is bored. There is a wryness to his conversation and a dryness to his humor, both of which are sustained by an intellect of power. The revered liberal jurist Larry Tribe has said that in decades of teaching at Harvard Law School, he has never had a cleverer student than Obama. I don’t think he’s exaggerating. Intellectually, Obama is in Bill Clinton’s league. But what he has over Clinton is emotional intelligence to buttress his grasp of policy.
What he gets, what he seems to intuit, is how to make others feel as if they are being heard. This is simple enough in theory but hard to pull off consistently in practice. His model is to figure out what another person needs and, if it helps Obama to get what he wants, to provide it.
He sensed that Hillary Clinton needed independent respect in defeat. He couldn’t give her the vice-presidency, which she desperately wanted, because it would have given her a dangerous rival power base if they succeeded. So he offered her the next best thing, and she, unlike her husband, was smart enough to say yes.
He realised that Rick Warren was an egomaniac and wanted some kind of platform, so he gave him a largely symbolic role at the inauguration and allowed Warren to preen. He knew that what Washington pundits really craved was not the truth, but a sense of their own importance. So he let them throw him a dinner party.
He sensed that McCain was in deep emotional withdrawal after his horrifying and crude descent into raw partisanship last autumn. And so he celebrated the old, bipartisan McCain and asked for his support in the Senate.
This is not typical for politicians in any climate and era. In the post-Clinton, post-Bush divide of the US, it’s a shock of sorts, and one most Washingtonians have yet to absorb. More shocks, I suspect, are to come, as people begin to realise that the new politics Obama promised is actually more than just a marketing device for a campaign.
Yes he can. The question in my mind right now is: can we?
(Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty.)
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