Monday, November 10, 2008

Newsweek's Home Run

My obsession with the 2008 Presidential campaign must unfortunately end sometime.  After watching countless YouTube videos, reading op-eds galore, and mentally mapping the candidates' array of endorsements, I still haven't tired of the drama and spectacle of it all.  It was an enormously entertaining campaign, complete with deeply moving passages, a fair dose of humor, nail-biting cliffhangers, and a tear-jerking conclusion.

I've never been a huge fan of Newsweek, which can probably be attributed to the simple fact that my parents subscribe to Time.  But this week's edition (dated Nov. 17) includes what is inarguably the finest journalism I have come across in more than six months of following this campaign.

Pooling the resources of a special team of reporters given year-long access to both the McCain and Obama campaigns, "on the condition that none of their findings appear until after Election Day," writer Evan Thomas crafts a narrative so remarkably entertaining, you may forget it's about politics at all.  Thomas' strong suit is his frankness; with the utmost clarity and truth, he is adept in his portrayal of the candidates' strengths and weaknesses.

There are seven "chapters" in all, and they are all page-turners--honest to God.  There are incredibly candid moments where one feels as though they have stumbled into a private meeting they were never meant to be a part of.   Take for instance, this excerpt regarding Obama's debate-prep:

Obama was something unusual in a politician: genuinely self-aware. In late May 2007, he had stumbled through a couple of early debates and was feeling uncertain about what he called his "uneven" performance. "Part of it is psychological," he told his aides. "I'm still wrapping my head around doing this in a way that I think the other candidates just aren't. There's a certain ambivalence in my character that I like about myself. It's part of what makes me a good writer, you know? It's not necessarily useful in a presidential campaign."

These candid remarks were taped at a debate-prep session at a law firm in Washington. The tape of Obama's back-and-forth with his advisers, provided to NEWSWEEK by an attendee, is a remarkably frank and revealing record of what the candidate was really thinking when he took the stage with his opponents.

On the tape, after Obama's rueful remark about the mixed blessings of his detached nature, there is cross talk and laughter, and then Axelrod cracks, "You can save that for your next memoir."

Obama continues: "When you have to be cheerful all the time and try to perform and act like [the tape is unclear; Obama appears to be poking fun at his opponents], I'm sure that some of it has to do with nerves or anxiety and not having done this before, I'm sure. And in my own head, you know, there's—I don't consider this to be a good format for me, which makes me more cautious. When you're going into something thinking, 'This is not my best …' I often find myself trapped by the questions and thinking to myself, 'You know, this is a stupid question, but let me … answer it.' Instead of being appropriately [the tape is garbled]. So when Brian Williams is asking me about what's a personal thing that you've done [that's green], and I say, you know, 'Well, I planted a bunch of trees.' And he says, 'I'm talking aboutpersonal.' What I'm thinking in my head is, 'Well, the truth is, Brian, we can't solve global warming because I f–––ing changed light bulbs in my house. It's because of something collective'."

If you were at all interested in this campaign, I urge you to take the time to read these.  The entire thing can be found online; read it here.

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