Just in time for President Barack Obama's State Of The Union address Tuesday night, we have David Remnick's juicy New Yorker profile on the president. Remnick has already written a biography about Obama, which recalls his rise from long-shot candidate all the way to the White House. In the New Yorker piece, "Going the Distance," Remnick gives us a closer look at our nation's leader today — from Obama's Sunday morning basketball game, to his feelings about the highly-criticized Affordable Care Act rollout.
It's a perspective that we haven't seen since Michael Lewis hung out with Obama for six months and shared the details in a Vanity Fair profile. This time around we see a more realistic Obama, one that's aware of his limitations and the heavy burden that comes with his second term. Here's what you need to know...
1. He Applies "Godfather"-isms to Politics
After nearly two terms, the president still holds on to his belief that bipartisanship is an attainable goal across the board. He's on the lookout for that single unifying moment that will bring Democrats and Republicans together.
Though Obama's a powerful man with powerful friends, it's proven to be a difficult journey — one that has the President constantly calling on Congress to help him out with.
For the moment, though, the opposition party is content to define itself, precisely, by its opposition. As Obama, a fan of the “Godfather” movies, has put it, “It turns out Marlon Brando had it easy, because, when it comes to Congress, there is no such thing as an offer they can’t refuse.”
2. We Can Expect A Memoir
Obama plans to pen a memoir after he leaves the White House in 2018, most likely touching on issues like human rights, education, and health and wellness. The president’s already got three books under his belt, including one aimed at children. His best friend, Marty Nesbitt, told Remnick:
I don’t see him locked up in a room writing all the time. His capacity to crank stuff out is amazing. When he was writing his second book, he would say, ‘I’m gonna get up at seven and write this chapter—and at nine we’ll play golf.’ I would think no, it’s going to be a lot later, but he would knock on my door at nine and say, ‘Let’s go.’
3. He Defends Shortcomings With A "Long View" Perspective
When it comes to critics, Obama's got a lot of them — just look at his sliding approval ratings. He's acknowledged his shortcomings with issues like the Affordable Care Act rollout, but has also pointed out that Rome wasn't built in a day.
“But I think our decisions matter,” he went on. “And I think America was very lucky that Abraham Lincoln was President when he was President. If he hadn’t been, the course of history would be very different. But I also think that, despite being the greatest President, in my mind, in our history, it took another hundred and fifty years before African-Americans had anything approaching formal equality, much less real equality. I think that doesn’t diminish Lincoln’s achievements, but it acknowledges that at the end of the day we’re part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right.”
4. "The Beast" Is Overly Prepared For Anything
The presidential car is a Cadillac known as "The Beast." But it's not just any limo. It's said to weigh as much as 15,000 pounds, is armored with ceramic, titanium, aluminum, and steel to withstand bomb blasts, and is sealed in case of biochemical attack.
It carries a supply of blood to match Obama's. The window are five inches thick, and it's doors are as heavy as those on a Boeing 757. When you have one of the top world leaders riding in the back, what can you expect?
5. He's Not As Extroverted As You Think
It may come as a surprise to many that the charismatic, affable President we see isn't a fan of big groups. He does well in small, close quarters and is a top-notch public speaker, but schmoozing isn't really his thing.
Remnick writes that Obama would rather eat privately with a group of his aides before a fundraiser, than move from table to table chatting to guests.
“Obama is a genuinely respectful person, but he doesn’t try to seduce everyone,” Axelrod said. “It’s never going to be who he’ll be.” Obama doesn’t love fund-raising, he went on, “and, if you don’t love it in the first place, you’re not likely to grow fonder of it over time.”
6. Obama's Known As the "Reluctant Politician"
Remnick doesn't hold back on criticism of the president. Amongst other things, he's been called:
"aloof, insular, diffident, arrogant, inert, unwilling to jolly his allies along the fairway and take a 9-iron to his enemies. He doesn’t know anyone in Congress. No one in the House or in the Senate, no one in foreign capitals fears him. He gives a great speech, but he doesn’t understand power."
And it could be that there's some truth in their sentiments. One columnist noted Obama "would rather read a book than spend time with people he doesn’t know or like" — and that includes members of Congress. But, when Obama does invite Republicans over, his invites are apparently declined.
7. Snowden's NSA Leaks Weren't Comparable to Watergate
Or so the President says. Despite the firestorm Edward Snowden sparked with his NSA leaks, Obama still insists there isn't anything to cover up. Nothing was illegal, he adds, though some people were put at risk.
Though he admitted the NSA has had “too much leeway to do whatever it wanted or could," he doesn't regret his decisions.
The coverage of the leaks, Obama complained, paints “a picture of a rogue agency out there running around and breaking a whole bunch of laws and engaging in a ‘domestic spying program’ that isn’t accurate. But what that does is it synchs up with a public imagination that sees Big Brother looming everywhere.”
8. Basketball Can Be Applied To Anything — Even the Middle East
Obama's known for being a basketball fan; he's even sported a couple of injuries from rough games on the court.
When it comes to the Middle East, he believes American military involvement isn't the answer to achieving peace and balance in developing countries. He even uses a sports comparison when asked about the rise of terrorism is Fallujah.
“The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant,” Obama said, resorting to an uncharacteristically flip analogy. “I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian."