Washington: A new portrait of US President Barack Obama that has emerged collectively from three books on his presidency reveals less-known secrets of the Obama administration.
Penned by three authors who have written books about his presidency - Bob Woodward, Jonathan Alter and Steven Rattner, the combined 1,235 pages about Obama’s 20 months in office offer five insights:
1) Obama’s world is more dramatic than he would like us to think – The notion that Obama’s tenure was clear of conflicts is better brushed aside, wrote Woodward, reports The Politico.
He revealed that National Security Council staffers privately thought of the Obama administration as populated by ‘tribes,’ - a ‘Hillary tribe’ at the State department, a ‘Chicago tribe’ centered on Obama political strategist David Axelrod and Emanuel and a ‘campaign’ tribe within the NSC, led by two former Obama aides.
And Gen. David Petraeus balked at administration efforts to keep him on message.
“They’re f—-ing with the wrong guy,” he told an aide, according to Woodward, after the White House put the kibosh on a press release he wanted to send out.
2) They’re pretty unabashed about discussing the politics of national security – According to Woodward, Obama’s senior advisers habitually mulled the political implications of military options considered for Afghanistan.
Emanuel called the war “political fly paper” that would get stuck to the president and couldn’t peel off, and he made clear his unhappiness with Obama’s decision to send 30,000 more troops last year.
3) White House discussions about the auto industry were politicized, too – Rattner wrote how Democratic lawmakers from the key industrial states impacted by auto-related bankruptcies pressed the administration to get involved, as did the unions. But Axelrod presented polling data at multiple meetings warning that the public hated bailouts.
When experts made a presentation to Emanuel about the impacts of a possible Chrysler bankruptcy, they gave him a map of facilities that identified one plant in Kokomo, Ind., as being in Republican Dan Burton’s district.
Eventually the administration went ahead with what would be locally popular but nationally unpopular bailout. Rattner says the White House initially tried to have the news come from outside the White House. He called the idea “insane” and said such a big policy pronouncement needed to come from the president.
“We never learned the origin of the original rollout plan but assumed it was advisers leery of political fallout from such a controversial set of announcements,” wrote Rattner.
4) The boss is cerebral or aloof, depending on your perspective - Alter writes about how Obama is more likely to become silent and give blank stares than throw a temper tantrum when he gets upset. He emphasizes the President’s push for comprehensive health reform when his staff wanted to compromise after the Massachusetts special Senate election, a part of what Obama calls a “philosophy of persistence.”
“His cool, wry temperament — his moods famously never seemed to go too high or too low — could be perplexing,” Alter wrote. “It had a mellow yet restless cast, a peculiar mix of calm, confidence, and curiosity.”
“I found President Obama’s decision-making style to be consistent with his ‘no drama Obama’ reputation and on par with the best CEOs I had spent time with on Wall Street,” Rattner wrote.
5) Obama’s campaign staffers watch each other’s backs - Woodward writes of the frustrations by top members of Obama’s national security team that the campaign people stay tight with the other campaign people — the ones National Security Adviser Jim Jones derisively called “the water bugs.”
This manifested itself when Emanuel — who didn’t work on the Obama campaign but seamlessly joined the inner circle — would come to visit Donilon, Jones’ deputy, instead of Jones.
Alter attributes the insularity to Obama’s lack of a deep background in Washington. Of a meeting the morning after the election, a transition aide told Alter that he was taken aback by how few top Democratic policymakers Obama knew well. The former Clinton aide guessed that all the names could fit on one index card.
Rattner faults the Obama transition team for not working more closely with Bush and for being slow to fill the ranks beyond senior West Wing staff.
“Obama’s ‘one president at a time’ stance may have been good politics, but if his team had linked arms with the outgoing administration, as President Bush’s advisers had proposed, billions of dollars could well have been saved,” he wrote.