- 19 Oct 08, 04:54 AM GMT
Kansas City, Missouri: Most politicians I have covered betray something; a weakness; a hunger; a passion. We as journalists try to smoke out their demons or insecurities. Barack Obama reveals little.
I watched Barack Obama closely the morning after the final debate. He was in Londonderry, New Hampshire. We were bone-weary after four hours sleep. I was looking for signs of strain after the pressure of 90 minutes in the ring with John McCain. I half expected a slight deflation in the candidate after the high-octane of debating
before 63 million people.
The rain was falling by the time he arrived. He was wearing a casual rain jacket and what I noticed was his walk. There was something jaunty about him. He wasn't cocky but he almost strolled to the stage. Not only had he debated the night before but he had attended a fund-raiser in New York before appearing in New Hampshire.
And that is part of his enigma. At these events he is accessible but unreadable. He shows no strain. He is the effortless politician. After 21 months of speeches and shaking the hands of strangers he seems unhurried and at ease. His pursuit of power does not mark him as it does other politicians.
I remember with President Clinton his need to win you over. At a press conference you had to wait until he looked at you and then you asked your question. You held his gaze and he locked on to you enabling you to ask maybe two or three further questions. You could feel his desire to be liked and admired.
I covered the Kerry campaign. With John Kerry you could sense the sheer effort to be a popular politician. I remember after a brief interview with him, the speed the smile dropped.The famous jaw set rigid as he walked away. Towards the end of the campaign I detected a weariness as he sought to sell himself as an ordinary American.
Gordon Brown, too, finds campaigning difficult. It is not him. The small talk, the easy aside. I have watched him sitting with a group of ordinary people, his arms resting on the table, his hands clasped in front of him. You can almost sense his desire for the event to be over and for him to get back to his papers and his advisers.
His long pursuit of power is never disguised.
Barack Obama is a natural. I remember a few years ago meeting him in Chicago with a few other journalists. In the ballroom, where we talked, he was already turning heads. Way before he ran for the presidency the hands were outstretched, waiting for him.
Back then he was curiously detached from all the attention. He listened to us, he looked down while we spoke. He was intellectually curious. He did not dominate the conversation.
As a candidate he is immensely disciplined. During the second town hall debate the candidates rested on stools between questions. The Obama team had worked out that their candidate looked at his best with one foot resting on the floor, the other on the rung of the stool. The pose breathed assurance, relaxation, a man totally at ease. Having chosen this position he never strayed from it. Just one small example of his attention to detail and his ability to deliver.
During the primaries Hillary Clinton and her team said he was "untested" but it often seemed to me that what they were hinting at was that there was something "unexplained" about him, precisely because he gives so little away. He is on stage every day. He speaks, gives interviews but as to what really drives this extraordinary politician we as watchers, voters cannot be sure.
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