Obama Gets Feature Story and Annie Leibovitz Photo Shoot

obamas mens vogue

Obama may or may not turn out to be a credible candidate for President in 2008, but he is certainly doing a great job of obtaining early publicity. Men’s Vogue has both a lengthy article on Barack Obama and photos by Annie Leibovitz. Some selections:

As a speaker, Obama does not strive for the soulful effect of an African-American evangelical. Nor does he conjure instant empathy with an audience, the way Bill Clinton does. He delivers his message with the understated charisma of a Midwestern news anchor. But when he writes or when he speaks, Obama does something no one else in politics does: He plumbs his own anxiety and doubt, and ties his life story to political problems that few elected officials dare to discuss so personally, including the disparities of race and class, drug abuse, poverty, and, of course, faith.

That afternoon, the senator recounted his own path from a secular, multicultural household to the spiritual home he found in the black church. As a community organizer in Chicago in the 1980s, Obama had put together demonstrations and registered voters alongside Christian leaders who honored the civil-rights tradition of social change. His faith-grounded fellow activists, he explained, “saw that I knew their Book, that I shared their values, that I sang their songs.” But, he said, they also “sensed that part of me that remained detached and removed, that I was an observer in their midst.” He continued, “In time, I came to realize that something was missing for me as well, that without a vessel for my beliefs, without a commitment to a particular community of faith, at some level I would always remain apart, and alone.” Though Obama had long been skeptical of organized religion, he gradually came to embrace it “as a choice, not an epiphany.”

They go on to discuss how Obama wrote The Audacity of Hope:

Of all of the assets that make Obama such an appealing figure to Democrats—his reflective intellect, his departure from the familiar paths of racial politics, his good looks and easy manner—it is his writer’s voice that most distinguishes him as a political figure. Many of the nation’s greatest leaders—Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Lincoln—were of course men of letters as well as candidates and officeholders. But the demands of a modern political career—the fund-raising, the constant travel, the need to respond to a 24-hour news cycle—seem to preclude collecting one’s thoughts in such a polished and engaging way. The Senate, in particular, breeds the kind of pomposity and egotism that ruins thoughtful prose. Senators publish a lot of books, but most are memorabilia, not political literature.

A few highbrow politicians—Eugene McCarthy, Mario Cuomo, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan—have managed to write seriously. But much of this body of literature conveys the message that the writers, whose careers never went as far as their admirers thought they could, are too good for the dirty business of politics. Obama seems determined not to fall into either trap—growing so infatuated with his own reflection that he can’t succeed as a leader, or charging ahead so hard that there’s no space left for his emotional and intellectual life.

Naturally the subject of running for President comes up:

The Democratic obsession—it is not too strong a word—with the possibility of his running in 2008 reflects a combination of concern about Hillary Clinton’s electability and impatience with the notion that their biggest talent intends to sit out the race to marinate longer in the Senate. There’s also the fact of his crossover appeal—in the 2004 Illinois race, Obama won an impressive 40 percent of the Republican vote. (And as the Daily Kos episode suggests, he’s not afraid to criticize his own side, chiding Democrats in his new book for sometimes being “smug, detached and dogmatic.”) Somewhat against his will, the force of his voice—and the truth that legislating veterans’ benefits is not his highest calling—seems to be pulling him toward considering a run. As Joe Klein recently wrote in Time, the gossip in Washington is that Obama “isn’t not running for President.”

Obama is too candid to deny that he’s thinking about the presidency. “Look, it was highly unlikely that I would ever be a U.S. senator, so it’s very flattering for people to talk about a presidential race,” he says. He recalls walking recently through a corridor of the Capitol Hilton, which is filled with portraits of all 43 presidents, and pondering their careers. “You go through and you think, ‘Who are these guys?’ There are—what?—maybe ten presidents in our history out of 40-something who you can truly say led the country? And then there are 30-odd who just kind of did their best. And so—I guess my point is—just being the president is not a good way of thinking about it.”

Obama is well aware of the obstacles he would face, including his limited experience in foreign policy, and Hillary Clinton’s embedded position as front-runner. It’s also not lost on him that much of the next president’s job will be “cleaning up the mess,” which is as close as he comes to trashing the Bush administration. “My attitude about something like the presidency is that you don’t want to just be the president,” he continues. “You want to change the country. You want to make a unique contribution. You want to be a great president.”

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2 Comments

  1. 1
    janet says:

    I can’t put my finger on what it is about Obama. But when he speaks, I listen.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    There is a bit of a James Earl Jones quality to his voice, making it hard to ignore. (I’d joke about the powers of the force and effects on the mind, but after my post protesting all the jokes about him and other Democats I shouldn’t compare him to Darth Vader.)

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