Obama and the Bubble
Thursday, January 8, 2009; 12:58 PM
George W. Bush was not well-served by his famous presidential bubble.
In retrospect, it seems clear that had he been exposed to opposing views, gotten a reality check now and again, or learned a little humility, he might well have avoided some of the biggest disasters of his presidency. But instead, he surrounded himself with flatterers and yes-men, shielded himself from dissent and appeared almost exclusively before pre-screened audiences.
President-elect Barack Obama seems to have learned this lesson -- or he was just never wired that way in the first place. In an interview yesterday with CNBC's John Harwood, he described how he is struggling to keep existing lines of communication open, bake dissent into his presidency, and not lose touch with the experience of regular Americans.
"I think it's important not to live in the bubble," Obama told Harwood. "So you've got to be open to outside information, particularly criticism. I'll tell you, I very rarely read good press and I often read bad press, not because I agree with it but because I want to get a sense of are there areas where I'm falling short and I can do better."
The most immediate tension appears to be over Obama's use of e-mail, which his security and legal teams have urged him to curtail.
"I think I'm going to be able to get access to a computer somewhere. It may not be right in the Oval Office," Obama said. "The second thing I'm hoping to do is to see if there's some way that we can arrange for me to continue to have access to a BlackBerry. I know that -- "
Harwood: "As of this moment, you still have your BlackBerry."
Obama: "As of this moment, I still do. This is a concern, I should add, not just of Secret Service, but also lawyers. You know, this town's full of lawyers. . . . And they have a lot of opinions. And so I'm still in a scuffle around that, but it -- look, it's the hardest thing about being president."
Obama: "How do you stay in touch with the flow of everyday life? . . .
"[I]t's not just the flow of information. I mean, I can get somebody to print out clips for me, and I can read newspapers. What it has to do with is having mechanisms where you are interacting with people who are outside of the White House in a meaningful way. And I've got to look for every opportunity to do that -- ways that aren't scripted, ways that aren't controlled; ways where, you know, people aren't just complimenting you or standing up when you enter into a room, ways of staying grounded. And if I can manage that over the next four years, I think that will help me serve the American people better because I'm going to be hearing their voices. They're not going to be muffled as a consequence of me being in the White House."