Obama: Ambition Should Be Made of Sterner Stuff

Remember that Obama flap–no, not Rev. Wright, not Bill Ayres, not BitterClingGate, not LapelPinGate,  not Michelle Be Not Proud–no, way back even further, when the Clinton campaign unearthed evidence that Obama did  have early ambitions to be Pres, as they found in a grade-school essay he had written?

I don’t know when Obama first had the idea, which he may now regret,  to run for President. But as these shoes from his past have dropped one by one, I’ve come to this conclusion: Obama has long lacked the Ultra Caution Gene that’s part of almost every successful  politician’s makeup.

    I’ve known and befriended a  number of people who served at the city council, state rep/ state Senate and  House level, in addition to several unsuccessful candidates for office and a number of bold talkers who threatened to run for office but never got in the ring. And almost all these winners, losers, and wannabes had one thing in common: They were pathologically cautious. Everything they did  was passed through this filter: Will this Person /Event/Contribution/Statement  hurt me or help me in reaching my goal?

These were people straight out of the Clintonian mold, forever “preserving their options” against the day they would run for office. At fundraisers or staff parties, they would never be photographed holding a beer or glass of wine. If they knew a journalist was nearby, even someone who covered sports or real estate, they would constantly interrupt the most innocuous chatter to say, “Now, this is off the record, but…” And so on.

One anecdote will suffice. Several years ago  I was a semi-regular panelist on a local PBS public affairs TV show. Four of us would get together a few times a month and argue about local, state, and national politics. The shows would air Friday nights and Sunday mornings, so you can imagine the underwhelming size of the audience.  One woman panelist, whom I’ll call Marissa, was generally known to have political ambitions, and those dreams acted as a governor on everything she did and said. Her every comment was balanced and nuanced until the life was squeezed out of it; she  never entertained a single thought that didn’t come from the party’s marching orders of that month or year.

Pal around with firebrand preachers? Ex bomb-throwers? Are you kidding? This woman would have run screaming from a Unitarian, much less a militant.

Just before we’d go on the air each week, an assistant producer would bring out a payroll sheet for us to initial so that we could receive what the station called an “honorarium,” which is PBS-speak for “enough to buy a six-pack and some Doritos on the way home.” One day the AP was sick, so we didn’t see the payroll sheet that day. After the show, another staffer told me that she had just initialed them for us and had already taken the sheet to the business office.

Marissa, who was taking off some of her camera makeup, spun around in her chair. “What?” she asked, her eyes wide. “You did what?”

The staffer, nervous now, repeated what she had done. Marissa jumped from her chair, whipping off the makeup gown, and said something like, “We need to fix that. Now!” And she demanded that the frightened young minion accompany her to the business office, where, I later learned, she accosted the accounting head and demanded that he give her the payroll sheet so that she could erase the offending initials and insert her own.

A few weeks later I ran into a mutual friend who told me how horrified Marissa had been over the incident. What if she ran for office a year or five years later, and some opposition research weasel found out somebody had forged her initials on a financial document? Yikes!

Not five but ten years later, Marissa did run for Congress. Her opponent, the incumbent, trounced her without breaking a sweat, portraying her as a conventional, programmatic politician who was simply out of step with the district’s needs. But at least he never plumbed the dark secrets of  InitialGate.