How The Man Of Change Changed (Volume 2)
On July 23, 2012, 5:02 PM by Karl Moats
In the winter of 2011, the president had to say goodbye to the Obama frat and hello to a new series of uphill battles.
WASHINGTON—White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was all set to TP the White House.
He vowed to do it if Auburn won the BCS Championship. Gibbs had a deal all worked out with the Secret Service: they would leave a couple rolls in an undisclosed location and he would unfurl them over the White House roof or maybe a tree out front.
Life was good in the house of Obama Phi. They balled hard in guys-only basketball games. Everyone was a “dude” or a “bro”. They did fist-pumps, not handshakes. Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel dropped f-bombs left and right, and during White House press meetings Robert Gibbs never met a sports analogy he didn’t like. Even staff elder Lawrence Summers would doze off during economy briefings. White House interns learned early on to be careful rounding West Wing corners lest they find Barack and Michelle canoodling.
But the president was missing something.
KAILUA, HI—The president had to get something off his chest.
Winter vacation in Hawaii. Sometime after a shaved ice, sometime after putting the girls to bed. He pulled close friend/senior adviser Valerie Jarrett aside and confided his biggest regret as president: He was spending too much time in Washington.
Obama missed being out and about. The man who cut his teeth organizing on the South Side of Chicago was weary of months in cloistered West Wing meeting rooms. He was done hearing what the people wanted via glossy PowerPoint decks rather than in-person.
He acknowledged he had to stay put. The economy, Greece…the global financial system that teetered on the brink back in January 2009. He spent every waking moment speed-dialing Europe, hobnobbing Senators, doing everything he could to get the stimulus package through. But he missed the town halls. Even those gutter-ball bowling alley photo ops.
Obama’s staff knew his work was not yet finished. Unemployment still hovered in the 9%’s, the Middle East simmered, and a government shutdown (however improbably) loomed. But Obama finally had some breathing room, they felt. He had tied down many of the loose ends of his predecessor’s legacy and could now begin to mint his own.
So do it already, Jarrett chided.
And so Obama did. He challenged the country to another Sputnik moment in January’s State of the Union speech. To shake Washington from its bipartisan slumber and awaken a nation to out-innovate China.
And the next day Obama was out. He toured windswept Wisconsin solar farms helping the U.S. “win the future”. He overdressed in Silicon Valley town-halls, teasing Facebook employees, “My name is Barack Obama and I’m the guy who got Mark to wear a jacket and tie.”
President Obama was on the road again and loving it. He was looser at the podium, feistier with reporters. And to Valerie Jarrett, he was remembering why he wanted to be president in the first place.
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