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How Do You Decide to Run for President?


The Post has published an excerpt from Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson's new book, "The Battle for America 2008," which has some extended ruminations from the winner of that battle. In particular, I'm always interested in the decision-making process that candidates go through when they choose to run for president. On the one hand, it's easy to see the seductions of power. But few of us think we're the best, most intelligent, most capable person we know, much less the best, most intelligent, most capable person in the country. So how do you seek a position where that, at least in theory, is what's written under "qualifications"?

One day in late September 2008, aboard his chartered flight from North Carolina to Chicago, Obama talked about what pushed him into the presidential race after only two years in the Senate. "Objectively you've got to say there's a certain megalomania there that's unhealthy. Right?" he said with a chuckle. "Axelrod said this to me and he always reminds me of this. One of the things he said to me is he wasn't sure I would be a good candidate because I might be too normal. Which is why it's amusing, during the course of this campaign, the evolving narrative about me being aloof and elitist.

"Axelrod's right," he continued. "I'm not somebody who actually takes myself that seriously. I'm pretty well adjusted. You know, you can psychoanalyze my father leaving and this and that, but a lot of those things I resolved a long time ago. I'm pretty happy with my life. So there's an element, I think, of being driven that might have operated a little differently with me than maybe some other candidates. The way I thought about it was more of a sense of duty, in this sense. I thought to myself: There aren't that many people put in the position I'm put in. Some of it's just dumb luck. Some of it maybe has to do with me embodying some characteristics that are interesting for the time that we're in. But when I made the decision to do this, it wasn't with the certainty that I was the right person for the job. It was more the sense of, given what's been given to me, I should probably just give it a shot and see whether in fact there's something real there.

"But I went into it with some modesty, thinking to myself: It may be that this really is all hype, and once people get a sense of my ideas and what's going on there that they think I'm some callow youth or full of hot air, and if that turned out to be the case, that was okay. I think for me it was more of a sense of being willing to do this, understanding that the odds were probably -- I gave myself 25 percent odds, you know, maybe 30 -- which are pretty remarkable odds to be president of the United States, if you're a gambling man."

Photo credit: Jim Young -- Reuters

By Ezra Klein  |  July 31, 2009; 6:06 PM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama  
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Incredible, Ezra. Obama continues to amaze me. He seems to be three moves ahead of everyone, including his party, his opponents and the MSM.

Harry Truman once said, "Anyone who wants to be President should automatically be a disqualified." I'm not sure if Obama wanted to be, but he is surely disqualified given what we have had before.

Another excellent post.

Posted by: PoliticalPragmatist | August 1, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

I honestly thought that Obama had no shot because, on the one hand, Hillary seemed invincible, and on the other, it appeared (at least to me) that Edwards was the candidate who was most likely to benefit from the ABH vote. I also underestimated the readiness of voters to accept an African American candidate (excuse my ignorance and/or naivete, but I'm still not sure why Obama seems to identified as more black than white).

Anyway, although I have been disappointed with some of the lack of boldness in Obama's governance to date, I am thrilled that I was wrong about his electoral chances.

Posted by: newjersey_lawyer | August 1, 2009 3:38 PM | Report abuse

"The Battle for America 2008"? Sounds both grandiose and shopworn -- not at all capturing the spirit of the event.

Hopefully its contents are better than its name.

Posted by: leoklein | August 1, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

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