Here are a few of the many things that the Michael Lewis story on President Obama teaches us: The guy is hypercompetitive, serious, thoughtful, authentic (“He really doesn’t do artifice well,” a speechwriter says). He knows himself. He’s not a loner, exactly, but he likes his space, his alone time, his thinking time. Boring dresser because it cuts down on decision-making. List-maker. Likes to hang out on the Truman Balcony (and knows where the bullet hit the house after a nut-job with a rifle took a shot last November).
Toward the end of the piece there’s a great line from Michael, when exploring the private residence at the White House with POTUS as tour guide: “I shouldn’t have been there. When a man with such a taste and talent for spacing is given so little space in which to operate it feels wrong to take the little he does have, like grabbing water to brush one’s teeth from a man dying of thirst.”
We learn that Obama isn’t afraid to ask the young staffers in the back of the room what they think when the principals at the big table are presenting a plan that adds up to bupkis. We find out that Obama will stay up all night, ’til five in the morning, scribbling in tiny handwriting on a yellow legal pad, to bust out a Nobel Peace Prize speech with only hours to spare (and they were tweaking it even as he was heading to the stage).
I got an early copy of the Vanity Fair October issue. It has Katie someone on the cover. There’s a ranking inside of the biggest wheels in Silicon Valley. There’s a story about 50 years of James Bond movies (I still like From Russia With Love, though The Spy Who Loved Me is great campy fun too).
But back to Michael’s story. It’s terrific, as you’d expect — you know we’re big fans here at the A-blog. The structure toggles between an Air Force navigator shot down over Libya and the man who, as POTUS, got him into that jam.
Here’s Barack Obama on learning that he’d won the Nobel: “It’s one of the most shocking things that has happened in all of this,” he says. “And I immediately anticipated that it would cause me problems.”
Because he had to go accept a peace prize even as he was becoming commander in chief of a military larger than that of the next 15 countries combined (pulling that stat from memory, fyi).
Obama: “I need to make sure I was addressing a European audience that had recoiled so badly from the Iraq war, and that may have been viewing the conferring of the Nobel Prize as a vindication of inaction.”
So Ben Rhodes and Jon Favreau knock out a draft and Obama doesn’t like it. (Rhodes: “I totally screwed up.”) Obama decides he has to write it himself. And that means he has to really think through a very complicated and difficult concept: the just war.
And he has no time to do this, really. His schedule is jammed. He’s got 30 minutes free early one afternoon. He could skip dinner with the family. No: He sits down late at night and just pulls an all-nighter.
“What I had to do is describe a notion of a just war. But also acknowledge that the very notion of a just war can lead you into some dark places. And so you can’t be complacent in labeling something just. You need to constantly ask yourself questions.”
Professor Obama! Holding a seminar with himself.
Here’s the Vanity Fair promo for the story.