The Campaign Spot

Former Obama Campaign Organizer: ‘We didn’t know who he was. We knew who we wanted him to be.’

An interesting item in the Huffington Post from a former Obama campaign organizer:

But why was I so angry at Frank Rich this morning? I was accusing him of being behind the story, of writing about Daschle’s problems–and what they said about Obama’s inner circle–months after Daschle’s nomination had been announced. I was essentially blaming Rich for failing to inform me sooner that this was a bad pick, even though I could have easily found that out for myself. In retrospect, it was probably because I didn’t want to look.

Which makes me feel like my real motivation was an attempt to hide my own embarrassment about the decision to pick Daschle to begin with. I tell friends these days that I’ll never be angry at Obama, only disappointed. The difference between him and Bush is that Bush never even knew enough to make good decisions. But Obama does. And so when he makes bad ones, it isn’t because he’s ignorant. It’s because he’s failing to do the one intangible yet crucial thing he said he could do better than Hillary Clinton: lead. In a political wasteland dominated by false choices and deliberately deceptive paradigms, Obama held the potential to reshape the debate both in Washington and in people’s minds. His campaign might have spent a lot of time talking up the ability of the American people to bring change to Washington, but, while sincere, it’s also a long-term goal. For right now, Obama’s message is clear. He said it himself when criticized during the transition for surrounding himself with so many old Washington hands: “The change comes from me.”

So when the change doesn’t come from him, it’s disappointing and embarrassing, especially to those of us who promised exactly that for so long: that the change would come from him. When Obama makes a good decision, I use it to justify that narrative. And when he makes a bad one, I try to give myself an out by saying, “Well, we knew who he really was all along.” But perhaps that was always the point: we didn’t know who he was. We knew who we wanted him to be. And faced with choosing between a group of known-quantity candidates like Hillary Clinton and John Edwards whose potential seemed acceptable but limited, we were willing to take the chance that this guy would blow through the rafters and, to quaintly co-opt a phrase from the campaign, “change the world.” Such a hope sustained us through the campaign, and through other questionable transition appointments as well. (“Hillary’s going to answer to Obama at State, not the other way around.”)

I don’t know if it will make him feel any better, but a lot of people saw in Obama what they wanted him to be, not what he was.


The Latest