Obama: the most videoed president in history

August 22, 2013

Did you know that President Obama has an official videographer? I found out today, thanks to this NPR article.

Arun Chaudhary spent the entire 2008 campaign and the first two years of the administration filming Obama behind the scenes.

“We are definitely talking about thousands and thousands of hours,” he says, “and that’s just … my camera.”

Chaudhary and his successors have filmed Obama on the basketball court, in the Oval Office and palling around with Elena Kagan seconds before he nominated her to the Supreme Court.

How cool is that? The problem, it transpires, is that the sheer volume will, given the format, make it a nightmare for future historians to navigate:

While the material will go to the National Archives and eventually to the Obama presidential library, Chaudhary says there are crucial differences between official and casual events that make his material much harder to search.

“I could put the text of a speech into a file or something next to the video of the speech … and then when you’re searching for a specific line, it can come up,” he says. “But to actually have someone transcribe every casual conversation the president had with anyone while I was filming, I can tell you would take a long time.”

Those transcripts don’t exist, and nobody plans to create them. The behind-the-scenes footage is labeled by date and place. But beyond that, the contents will remain a mystery until someone combs through and catalogs them.

In the meantime, here’s a really fun compilation clip:

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A puppyish Congress

May 3, 2013

I really enjoyed this incisive and powerful opinion piece by Obama’s former chief speechwriter Jon ‘not that one’ Favreau. In it, Mr Favreau reminds us how deeply entrenched – politically and constitutionally – is Congress’ ability to derail positive change even when the vast majority of voters support it, and asks the American people to remember they too have an active part to play. Read the whole thing, it isn’t lengthy. This passage made me chuckle:

This Congress has so profoundly disappointed the American people that I suppose the real news would be if they ever did anything that even remotely reflected popular will. At this point, getting angry with Congress for failing to legislate seems as useful as yelling at a puppy for peeing on the floor: neither of them knows any better.


The winning formula and the wrong kind of making history

November 7, 2012

This is the best of several ‘secrets of Obama’s success’ articles I’ve read: a more precise and sophisticated analysis than the simpler ‘minority capture’ version, by National Journal editorial director Ronald Brownstein, writing for The Atlantic. Crushing victory amongst blacks, Hispanics and Asians sure (eight out of ten across all three taken together) but it was a more nuanced triumph than just that:

But in the upper Midwest, where there are not enough of those voters to win, Obama attracted just enough working-class whites to hold the critical battlegrounds of Wisconsin, Iowa, and above all Ohio against Mitt Romney’s forceful challenge.

And the more somber historical note:

Obama became the first elected president since Andrew Jackson to win a second full term with a smaller share of the popular vote than he took in his first victory.


Squeaky bum time

October 16, 2012

On the eve of the second debate, and with at least one poll (Gallup’s) showing Romney up to 50 per cent (when did that happen?! Oh yeah, then…) the ever excellent Nate Silver has this balanced and evidence-based analysis of the typical/variable impact of debates on polls and final election results. Nate closes by reminding us that round two is just as crucial as round one. Given Obama’s dreary showing on first go it’s possible to view this as both a blessing and a curse. Personally I’m tempted to turn my ‘phone off and hide under the duvet.

There is no evidence, incidentally, that the second presidential debate is any less important than the first one. On average, it has moved the polls by 2.3 percentage points in one direction or another — almost exactly the same as after the first debate, which moved them by 2.4 percentage points on average.


Romney’s best hope of debate victory: go underdog?

October 3, 2012

Interesting this: the Huffington Post has been combing the archives, analysing Mitt Romney’s performance in the series of five debates in 2002 that acted as (or perhaps more accurately coincided with) a turnaround in his fortunes in the battle with Shannon O’Brien for the Massachusetts governorship. Here’s O’Brien herself on the deciding factor; worth watching out for whether Romney attempts a similar underdog strategy in the debates starting today, and whether Obama can avoid falling into the same kind of ‘aggressor’ trap.

Romney, she said, had adopted a rope-a-dope strategy, playing tentative through much of the debates before finally punching back at a critical moment. “They wanted me to be tough,” she said. “That was a strategy to get me into a conflict. I took the bait. I kept going at him. I don’t think that helped me.”

It was a bit of political skill from her opponent that neither she or her advisers had expected. “I think [Obama] has to be careful being too negative, too nasty,” she said. “He has to be very matter of fact.”


Spending time with the decision-maker-in-chief

September 28, 2012

Really worth a read this: a lengthy profile in Vanity Fair of President Obama, by journalist Michael Lewis, who spent six months behind the scenes. In amongst the fascinating vignettes of Obama at rest, work and play (his weekly basketball games where anyone who ‘goes easy’ on the President isn’t invited back, Obama’s favourite place in the White House where he and Michelle sit whenever they can), much of the article focuses on the President’s approach to making decisions, in particular the decision to actively intervene in Libya. In the course of trying to understand Obama’s approach, Lewis makes a second attempt to ask how the current President would prepare someone else to take on a role that involves making hundreds of crucial decisions a day:

This time he covered a lot more ground and was willing to talk about the mundane details of presidential existence. “You have to exercise,” he said, for instance. “Or at some point you’ll just break down.” You also need to remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day. “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”

And then on another occasion the President tells Lewis:

“Nothing comes to my desk that is perfectly solvable,” Obama said at one point. “Otherwise, someone else would have solved it. So you wind up dealing with probabilities. Any given decision you make you’ll wind up with a 30 to 40 percent chance that it isn’t going to work. You have to own that and feel comfortable with the way you made the decision. You can’t be paralyzed by the fact that it might not work out.” On top of all of this, after you have made your decision, you need to feign total certainty about it. People being led do not want to think probabilistically.


Wishful thinking, or will Obama really benefit from a global leftward trend?

September 17, 2012

In amidst news of infighting amongst members of Team Romney and a shift of that campaign (from ‘focused but ultimately ineffective’ to ‘unfocused’) I find it important to bear in mind the old rule of thumb: campaigns are rarely going as badly or as well as it seems.

And yet… goodness it’s tempting. Tempting to believe that the challenge facing Romney isn’t just a mad professor chief of staff doing three jobs or a Hollywood director who refused to be scripted. Tempting to think that the Republicans are running against the tide. That the President’s narrow lead has structural causes.

Especially when respected political commentators like E. J. Dionne (Jr.) suggest the flow may be a global one:

The movement in the presidential race reflects a broader trend visible in many nations. In the immediate wake of the financial crisis, electorates moved not toward parties of the left, which is what one might expect during a crisis of capitalism, but toward the right. Conservative-leaning parties won a long list of national elections in 2009 and 2010, including the Republicans’ midterm triumph here.

Since then, thinks Dionne, the centre-left has mounted a comeback, resulting in Hollande winning and Miliband leading. Can it be true that voters the world over eventually always come back to the middle of the road?


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