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Bob Woodward on Obama

Bob Woodward was interviewed by Charlie Rose last night. The link is here:

I have certainly had my differences with Woodward over the years; I think, among other things, he has not given Bush nearly enough credit for his change in strategy in Iraq or the impact the surge has had on altering the course of events there. That said, I have found Woodward to be quite open to hearing views that challenge his assumptions or conclusions and interested in maintaining an on-going dialogue. That is more than can be said about many journalists and, in fact, even about many non-journalists. Also, Woodward is often fairly measured in his analysis of events, including where things stand with Obama. For example, in the interview with Rose, Woodward said this:

Once I had somebody count it up, and it was 131 major initiatives, legislation, major appointments, major ideas… He is undertaking just about everything. And all of those things are like planes unlanded at the airport. They’re circling and we don’t know what order they’re going to land in, whether they’re going to land at all.

And later, he said this:

And clearly what’s interesting about Obama is he’s very decisive. He has a process of, “We’ve got this problem. Let’s hear everyone out. Let’s look at it.” And then he decides, and in most cases announces it. And so, there are all of those unlanded planes. And I think people are, as you suggest, waiting to see what happens, seeing if they’re collisions, crashes, or if just some of these planes disappear from the radar, which is quite likely.

That sounds about right to me. What will determine the course and verdict of the Obama presidency isn’t Obama’s style or speeches, not the thrills he sends up the leg of Chris Matthews or the elevation to the deity we see from Evan Thomas. It will be, to stay true to Woodward’s metaphor, which planes Obama sends up and whether and how they land. We are still in the early stages of the Obama presidency, so whatever conclusions we draw about Obama, must, for now, be considered preliminary.

During the Rose interview, there was discussion about the difficulty in anticipating what issues will define a presidency (in the first half-year of the Bush presidency, Woodward was concentrating his efforts on tax cuts; then came 9/11). One of the temptations to which many of us who inhabit the political world fall victim, is taking a snapshot in time and assuming that what is will always be, or trying to predict the future based on a straight line trajectory of the present. Life and the world are often untidy; things will change, often quickly and sometimes dramatically. In that sense, Woodward is correct; the center of gravity for Obama is yet to be revealed. And even Obama himself may not know what it is, or what it will eventually be.

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