campaign temperament

This journal will not be all politics, all the time for much longer, I promise you. But when one uncovers a motherlode of good reading, one naturally wishes to share.

Since I only just this cycle started paying any real attention to the details of presidential campaigns, this is the first time I’ve heard of Newsweek‘s “How He Did It” series, which is apparently a long-standing practice. They embed reporters with the various campaigns, but put them under a strict embargo, only releasing their articles after the election is over. The result is an abso-frickin’-lutely fascinating and human look at the road to the White House — not only for the victor, but for his opponents along the way.

Now, I’m sure there’s a certain similarity to VH1’s “Behind the Music” shows — you know, the desire to search out the dramatic “but behind the scenes, everything was falling apart!” moments. Having said that, what I’ve read of the series so far highlights something I find very telling, about the temperaments of Clinton, McCain, and Obama.

I had reasons to like Clinton; I think she could have won the election, though probably not with Obama’s margin of victory, and I don’t think she would have sucked as a president. But my confidence in her ability, I must admit, is much weakened by this account of her campaign: she appears to have had no gift for managing her team. She failed to balance conflicting personalities and bring her fractious underlings into line, and the result, at least for a while, is that nothing effective got done. Ads against Obama were made and then shelved, because nobody could agree on what line they should take. It says elsewhere in the series that candidates are not supposed to micro-manage their campaigns, but I do imagine they’re supposed to provide leadership, and Clinton seems to have failed at that. Which does not inspire confidence in her hypothetical presidency: if she can’t forge consensus out of her campaign team, would she fare any better with her administration?

And then there’s McCain. I’m glad they had fun with their wacky pirate bus road trip, and I’m sure he’s a great guy to hang out with when he’s in the mood, but nothing I read about his temperament makes me think he belongs in the White House. He, too, had trouble getting his people to pull together, and has a really passive-aggressive streak to boot, never firing anybody, but making them so miserable they leave on their own — and then calling them up for advice long after they’re gone. He doesn’t like to listen to advice, and while he may be happy as the scrappy underdog gritting his way to the top, that’s a bad mentality for leading a country that has not been a scrappy underdog for at least a hundred years. I could also say a lot about his selection of Palin — and maybe I will, once I get to the part in the series that discusses it — but even before he made that monumental error in judgment, I just don’t think he was the right guy for the job.

Which brings us, of course, to Obama. It’s been said before, but the things I’m reading in the article reinforce it: the guy is smart, thoughtful, and disciplined. His campaign made its share of errors, but the instructive thing is how they reacted to them. They learned. They adapted. And they worked together. Before the Wright thing started blowing up, they decided they needed to look over all the guy’s sermons for potential sources of trouble, but it never happened. And when it came back to bite them? Axelrod blamed himself for not following up on it. Contrast that with the backbiting in Clinton’s and McCain’s campaigns, where everybody was more than happy to blame somebody else. The difference lies in the individuals, but also in the people in charge, who both chose those individuals, and created the dynamic of their interactions. Obama’s advisers didn’t always agree with each other, and he didn’t always agree with them, but they listened to each other, and examined their own judgment. When discussing VP picks, Obama didn’t want Clinton; the two of them did not get along. But when his advisers gave him a list of reasons why she would be the wrong choice, he kept questioning them on it. Were they sure? It wasn’t him second-guessing; it was him making sure their reasons (and his own) were practical, not personal.

That’s a temperament I want in the White House.

Anyway, I’m not done reading the series yet (and two chapters have yet to be posted), but those thoughts were rattling around in my head and preventing much else from getting done, so I figured I’d get them out. I highly recommend the series; it’s a lot of reading, but very, very good.

0 Responses to “campaign temperament”

  1. janni

    I’ve lost a lot of work time today to that series! And I’m only up to part 4 …

  2. mindstalk

    I only read the first page or two, the teaser, but yeah, seemed interesting and promising, and consistent with other reports of the three campaigns.

    Just try convincing the other side, though…

    • Marie Brennan

      Much of it is in the interpretation. Things that I consider good points about Obama (like his reserve), somebody else would see as a negatives. And if you’re the sort of person who wants your president to be somebody you could imagine sitting down and having a beer with, McCain’s behavior probably looks a lot better.

  3. amysisson

    I’ve read three chapters so far. I would have thought that the last thing I’d want to do is read more about politics at this moment, but it’s utterly, utterly fascinating. I’ve never been this informed about an election before, both pre- and post-Election Day. I feel like I’m really part of the process now — in many ways a gift from Obama, I think.

    • Marie Brennan

      Yah, seriously — why am I devouring political geekery now? But you’re right about Obama’s effect. I said on more than one occasion that even if you don’t like Obama’s policies, or think he’s overhyped, you’ve got to respect the extent to which he’s gotten people to care, and to engage.

    • shveta_thakrar

      You summed up where I stand exactly! 🙂

  4. gollumgollum

    My two favorite parts of the teaser:

    Clinton and McCain had downed shots together on Senate junkets;

    …because that really freaking amuses the hell out of me, the idea of the two of them doing shots.

    The other one, however, made me

    • Marie Brennan

      Yeah — both of those are such human touches. I mean, shots? And Obama swears! It’s like they’re real people!

      This is the way I like studying history: when it talks about people. But not in a nasty, tabloid way, either. I didn’t think I would get that kind of perspective on this campaign until it was long enough ago to be considered history.

      • gollumgollum

        The other day, i heard a story about LBJ. It seems he took great delight in pissing out of the escape hatches in the floor of the presidential limo. Which, again, humanizes him to a great degree. Those are the fascinating (and often hilarious!) touches i love.

  5. london_setterby

    Great post! I have been thinking about this, too (who hasn’t?). I think most of us can agree that we don’t need any more impulsive, self-centered, willfully oblivious behavior in the White House. When McCain picked Palin on some bizarre whim, that was the first thing I thought of. (I never supported him, but I was all right with the idea of him winning… until then.) Compare that to Obama, who has been so thoughtful and gracious and even-tempered this entire time. *That* is what I want. I still can’t believe it has actually happened.

    • Marie Brennan

      It’s also miraculous that more people appear to have voted on the issues, insteasd of letting smears and sound bites dictate their choices.

      • mindstalk

        What? Haven’t you heard? We all think Obama is the Messiah who’ll make all our problems go away! Dozens of right-wing LJs tell me so!

  6. jesterjoker

    Well, THAT’S a lot more on the TBR-on-the-computer pile. O_O

  7. wordweaver

    Thank you, I think – not that my inner political junkie needed *any more* stimulus…

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