Much of the buzz about Jodi Kantor’s new book, The Obamas, has centered on the gossipy angles of First Lady Michelle Obama’s adjustment to the White House and open conflict with top Obama advisers. But there are also less inside-baseball anecdotes of interest.
One such example in the book–which is, by the way, so relentlessly positive toward President Obama that it reads like a series of letters the president wrote to himself to buck up his spirits–comes when the president realizes his campaign promises on Guantanamo and detainee policy were foolhardy now that he has all the information. One day, the president brought in a group of law professors and civil liberties activists to meet with him, in the hope they would criticize him there in private and not do so publicly:
But Obama didn’t pull his punches. “When I was a senator running for office, I talked very firmly about what I thought was right based on the information I had,” Vince Warren, of the Center for Constitutional Rights, recalled the president saying. “Now I’m the president of all the people, and the decisions I make have to be from that perspective based on the information I now have.” His face emotionless, he told his guests that he was considering an indefinite detention policy, allowing authorities to hold certain suspects without charges. It was an “Oh my God moment,” one guest said later.
Good for the president to say that instead of blaming others, at least. But the worst moment of the meeting took place at its conclusion, when ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero repeated his plea for Obama to prosecute Bush officials. Romero said: “Hunt one head and hunt it famously and bring it down to ensure we don’t make the same mistakes again.”
Obama, to his great credit, told Romero he was alone on that ledge and dismissed the meeting.