Tuesday, October 28

18 HOURS A DAY WITH OBAMA

Peter Nicholas, LA Times - One of the striking ironies is that a man who draws tens of thousands of people to his rallies, whose charisma is likened to that of John F. Kennedy, can be sort of a bore.

Discipline is essential for candidates who want to drive home a consistent message, or avoid the self-sabotage that comes with a careless answer. A steely perseverance helps explain why Obama at this point stands a better than even chance of becoming the 44th president. But when you're exposed to the guy 18 hours a day, it's a bit maddening. You want him to loosen up.

I've watched Obama demonstrate a soccer kick to his daughter in Chicago; devour a cheesesteak in Philly; navigate a roller rink in Indiana; drive a bumper car; and catapult 125 feet in the air on an amusement-park ride called "Big Ben." He's done it all with dogged professionalism, but with little show of spontaneity. After all this time with him, I still can't say with certainty who he is. . .

There was [a] moment not long ago when I tried to wrest from Obama some display of personality.
Amy Chozick, a Wall Street Journal reporter, was wearing a new engagement ring. I told Obama's staff members they should send him back to take a look. A few minutes before takeoff my seatmate, Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times, nudged me: "He's coming back." I looked up and there he was, hovering over Chozick, clucking about her "rock."

He turned to our row. Just for fun and to see what he might say, I held out the $200 wedding ring I'd purchased four years ago at a chain jewelry store in a Sacramento mall.

What do you think of this ring, Senator? I asked. He looked at it for a few beats. No reaction. He was back in robo-candidate mode.

Zeleny then asked him about a recent debate. Obama chided him for asking the question, then eased back to his seat at the front of the plane without answering. I later asked Douglass if Obama understood I was joking. She assured me he did.

First Clinton, then John McCain made the argument that Obama is someone we don't really know. Obama's supporters counter that we have his record in the U.S. and Illinois senates, two memoirs that reveal his inner thinking and a vast trove of public speaking. Ironically, those of us who were sent out to take his measure in person can't offer much help in answering who he is, or if he is ready. The barriers set in place between us and him were just too great.

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