Saturday, February 10, 2007

Barack Obama: Destiny's Child?


Rolling Stone has a fairly lengthy piece on Barack Obama, the charismatic candidate many of us hope can show himself worthy of our vote for president.
Destiny's Child

No candidate since Robert F. Kennedy has sparked as much campaign-trail heat as Barack Obama. But can the one-term senator craft a platform to match his charisma?
By BEN WALLACE-WELLS

Shortly after Barack Obama was elected to the United States Senate in 2004, he began residing, Monday through Thursday, in a one-bedroom apartment a few blocks from the Capitol. For a forty-three-year-old man who had been married for thirteen years and who had two young daughters, it was an isolating experience. The building has a yoga studio and a running track and a decidedly own-and-urban view of some ratty rooftops in the city's tiny Chinatown district; its decor, glass and brick, is less U.S. senator than junior management consultant. In his return to bachelor life, Obama found himself "soft and helpless. My first morning in Washington, I realized I'd forgotten to buy a shower curtain and had to scrunch up against the shower wall in order to avoid flooding the bathroom floor." The other new Democrat elected to the Senate that year, Ken Salazar of Colorado, took an apartment in the same building with his brother John, who is himself a congressman; they spent their time watching documentaries about leathery old cowboys on the Western Channel. Obama spent most of his time reading briefing books.

When Obama first got to Washington, he wanted to be a wonk, to keep his head down and concentrate on small issues. "The plan was: Put Illinois first," one of his aides tells me. Obama himself admits that his initial agenda had a "self-conscious" modesty. His early legislative accomplishments have been useful and bipartisan -- he has even sponsored bills with ultraconservative Sen. Tom Coburn, who believes that high school bathrooms breed lesbianism -- but they have been small-scale and off the headlines: a plan to make it easier for citizens to find out about government spending, increased research into ethanol, more job training and tax credits for "responsible fathers." This is the kind of head-down diligence that plays well in the Senate. "I am amazed by his sheer stamina," says Sen. Dick Lugar, a Republican from Indiana who has become something of a mentor to Obama.

But Washington has plenty of wonks, and Obama wasn't going to distinguish himself through diligence alone. He came to the Capitol equipped with his own, swelling celebrity; the Senate was not a perfect fit. Beyond his considerable charm, Obama can be righteous and cocky. He came to Washington pushing the hope that politics could be better -- but now he can give the impression that he'd rather be just about anywhere other than in Washington. "It can be incredibly frustrating," he tells me. "The maneuverings, the chicanery, the smallness of politics here." Listening to a bloviating colleague at his first meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Obama slipped a three-word note to a member of his staff: "Shoot. Me. Now." On a recent day, as Obama made his way through the Capitol's corridors, his fellow senators seemed like good-natured sportscasters, jolly and easy with their power, bantering about the fortunes of baseball teams in their home states. . Obama is aloof and quiet. He prefers to listen, attentive as a rector, not quite of this world, silently measuring it. "The typical politician pushes himself on people to get them to pay attention," says Frank Luntz, the Republican campaign strategist. "Obama is quieter. He doesn't push -- he has a laid-back feel that pulls you in. That is so rare."

Read the whole article.


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