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Obama as 'clutch player'


Michiko Kakutani reviews David Plouffe's campaign memoir:

[Obama] is depicted as someone accustomed to being in control: when Mr. Plouffe first met him during his 2004 Senate race, he writes, Mr. Obama was “having a hard time allowing his campaign staff to take more responsibility for both the campaign and his life.”

“You just have to let go and trust,” Mr. Plouffe recalls saying, reminding Mr. Obama that he had “to be the candidate. Not the campaign manager, scheduler or driver.”

Mr. Obama is quoted as responding: “I understand that intellectually, but this is my life and career. And I think I could probably do every job on the campaign better than the people I’ll hire to do it. It’s hard to give up control when that’s all I’ve known in my political life. But I hear you and will try to do better.”

As in Richard Wolffe’s book “Renegade,” Mr. Obama emerges in these pages as a clutch player who can hit the three-point buzzer beater but who does not really like to practice. “Preparing for the convention speeches illuminated one interesting contrast between Michelle and Barack,” Mr. Plouffe writes. “Michelle wanted a draft of her speech more than a month out so she could massage it further, get comfortable with it and practice the delivery. Barack was always crafting his at the 11th hour. In this regard, Michelle was a concert pianist — disciplined, regimented, methodical — and Barack was a jazz musician, riffing, improvisational and playing by ear.”

Photo credit: Scout Tufankjian/HBO.

By Ezra Klein  |  November 3, 2009; 11:15 AM ET
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Something is off here. The greatest clutch players are the greatest practice players. I find it hard to believe that Obama's 11th-hour edits were really all that dramatic. Given the repetitiveness of the stump he's not all that much of a jazz musician.

Posted by: NicholasBeaudrot | November 3, 2009 11:49 AM | Report abuse

What a funny picture. I immediately thought of this story from the book of Mark I heard as a child in sunday school seeing this:

24 And Jesus went with him; and much people followed him, and thronged him. 25 And a certain woman, which had an issue of blood twelve years, 26 And had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse, 27 When she had heard of Jesus, came in the press behind, and touched his garment. 28 For she said, If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole. 29 And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of that plague.

Posted by: zeppelin003 | November 3, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse

You said it Nicholas: Something is off here, big time.

Posted by: bmull | November 3, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Learning to trust your team even on the most important matters is a struggle for every competent, confident person as they advance to a position of management over an organization that is too large to track on a task-by-task basis.

Obama was probably right that he could do any individual job better than the person doing it. But no matter how good he is, he can't do all of those jobs at the same time. I certainly wouldn't want Pres. Obama to be down in the weeds too much.

Every President has to delegate. That's why they have a staff and a cabinet. Jimmy Carter was accused of being too "hand-on" and micromanaging, and this harmed the overall productivity of his administration.

On the other hand, George W. Bush had the opposite problem. He was too passive and "incurious" (as Al Gore put it), allowing other people in his administration to act without enough accountability.

A President's job is to preside -- to manage a team of experts. A President doesn't sit on a throne issuing decrees.

Posted by: billkarwin | November 3, 2009 1:01 PM | Report abuse

"And I think I could probably do every job on the campaign better than the people I’ll hire to do it."

That's some ego there.

Posted by: tbass1 | November 3, 2009 7:49 PM | Report abuse

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