Vanity Fair is has the Michael Lewis profile of Barack Obama on line, and, like virtually everything Lewis writes, it’s worth reading in full. And not just because it’s sympathetic, but because it gets to the strangeness that is the life of the President of the United States.
There are several aspects of his job that seem obvious to him but strike me as so deeply weird that I can’t help but bring them up. For example, he has the oddest relationship to the news of any human being on the planet. Wherever it starts out, it quickly finds him and forces him to make some decision about it: whether to respond to it, and shape it, or to leave it be. As the news speeds up, so must our president’s response to it, and then, on top of it all, the news to which he must respond is often about him.
On the leather sofa beside me were the five newspapers that are laid out for him every time he travels. “In every one of those someone is saying something nasty about you,” I said to him. “You turn on the television and you could find people being even nastier. If I’m president, I’m thinking, I’ll just walk around pissed off all the time, looking for someone to punch.”
He shook his head. He doesn’t watch cable news, which he thinks is genuinely toxic. One of his aides told me that once, thinking the president otherwise occupied, he’d made the mistake of switching the Air Force One television from ESPN, which Obama prefers, to a cable news show. The president walked into the room and watched a talking head explain knowingly to his audience why he, Obama, had taken some action. “Oh, so that’s why I did it,” said Obama, and walked out. Now he said, “One of the things you realize fairly quickly in this job is that there is a character people see out there called Barack Obama. That’s not you. Whether it is good or bad, it is not you. I learned that on the campaign.” Then he added, “You have to filter stuff, but you can’t filter it so much you live in this fantasyland.”
I was struck by two things. First, how self-aware one has to be to avoid getting lost in the strangeness of the office. And second, Obama’s understanding of the importance of narrative. No more excerpts – go read it.