My secret, definitive (and unpublished) profile of Gene Sperling!
In the summer and fall of 1999, while a senior editor at The New Republic, I worked on a profile of Gene Sperling, then the chairman of the National Economic Council, a position to which President Obama is appointing him again. I'd known, worked with and closely observed Gene during my stint as a senior adviser at the Office of Management and Budget from 1993 to 1995, though we were not personally close. I thought Sperling's journey during the Clinton years was an ideal way to tell the story of the possibilities and limits of progressive policy in an era of divided government.
Sperling cooperated with the profile in a series of long interviews over several months. To my surprise and dismay, TNR rejected the original, 5,300-word draft for being "too favorable" to its subject and instead ran only a sharply truncated and lobotomized version. This reaction seemed emblematic of an editorial reflex I still don't understand, perhaps because I came to journalism after working in business and government. Having served in a White House, I can't help but try to empathize with those who serve in senior roles, and it's always struck me as odd that journalists are supposed to pretend they don't admire certain public figures even as they honestly assess their strengths and weaknesses and render a verdict on their actions.
Anyway, reading the piece now, over a decade later as Sperling takes the helm at the NEC again, I believe it stands up well as both a story of the man and a study of a situation that is (again) bound to frustrate progressive hopes in the years ahead. Since a writer naturally never wants anything on which he worked so hard to go to waste, I'm delighted to share the original version for those looking to better understand the evolving White House team. You can find the piece here. Thanks, President Obama, for making the piece
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