The Survivor, Part 2?


POLITICO Editor-in-Chief John F. Harris writes today about whether President Obama can emulate the post-1994 reinvention that Bill Clinton rode to reelection.  Harris’s take isn’t your typical pundit speculation. After all, he’s the author of the single best book on Bill Clinton’s presidency — “The Survivor” — and is a student of the modern presidency.

One of the many insights Harris offers in his piece:

Clinton’s political reassessment was carried out in tandem with an exceptionally painful personal reappraisal by both him and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. Days after the election, she broke down in tears in a conversation with Morris, confessing: “I don’t know which direction is up or down. Everything I thought was right was wrong.”

The president himself was so disoriented he looked everywhere for guidance. At Camp David, he played host to self-help gurus like Stephen Covey (“The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”) or Anthony Robbins (“Awaken the Giant Within”), whose late-night infomercials advised that people could train themselves to walk across hot coals. But he also opened his West Wing operation to talented outsiders who weren’t intimates or veterans of his campaign like then-chief of staff Leon Panetta.

Some of Clinton’s advice-seeking was eccentric, but it revealed a willingness to listen and an instinct for brutal self-critique that, at least to date, has hardly been Obama’s signature.


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