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Question: How has the story of Barack Obama evolved since the beginning of this year?

David Remnick: It’s always useful, journalistically, to remember the kind of sine curve of defeat and victory. I remember just a couple of months ago, we ran a cover that had four panels and Obama in three of them is walking across water in radiant light like you know, the great biblical figure. And in the fourth panel, he falls in the water. This is the nadir of the healthcare debate. It looked like he was quite possibly was going to lose, there was already talk about how horrible November elections were going to be for the Democratic party, and then he turns it around. And he won. He didn’t win a bipartisan victory, by any means. In fact, the main politicking had to be within the Democratic party to put it over. But all that said, he won an enormous victory and the momentum of the presidency changed. How long that will last, will it have any bearing on what happens in November? Well, as those reports always say, we’ll wait and see.

Question: Has he given up on trying to be bipartisan?

David Remnick: Even though Obama’s political reflex, his political personality aims toward conciliation, it’s certainly what made him a political animal as early as law school. It’s how he got to be the President of the Law Review, by drawing in conservatives as well as liberals, it’s how he succeeded. He’s not a fool. He sees reality. He sees the partisan divisiveness in the Congress. He wants to win. This is not some kind of pie-eyed idealist. Look at the health care bill, that bill contracted and was shaped over time in ways he may not have wanted, but he wanted to win. He did not want to walk out of there a gallant loser. Conciliation is also not a strategy that will necessarily work with pretty stubborn international forces. Conciliation, or charm, is not something that’s going to work with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or any other political force of that like.

There’s also a toughness to him. It’s not toughness that obstreperous and swaggering, but he’s capable of it.

Recorded on April 9, 2010

More from the Big Idea for Thursday, April 22 2010


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