Author Edward McClelland, a veteran Chicago journalist, wrote a great book about Barack Obama’s early political career called Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President (BOOK•KINDLE) that was I reviewed upon publication and found really interesting. With the 2012 race and President’s Obama’s bid for re-election really heating up, I asked McClelland a few quick questions to gain the perspective of a longtime Obama-watcher.
DP: Recently, I’ve had a significant amount of readers who have questioned President Obama’s political toughness. In your book, Young Mr. Obama, you chronicled the President’s rise through the Chicago political world. Do you think people underestimate the President’s tenacity because of the way he projects himself?
McClelland: He comes off as a very cool, dispassionate personality. The other side of that is that he’s one of the most calculating people I’ve ever met, and doesn’t hesitate to discard people who are of no more use to him politically. He’s tough and unsentimental in that way.
DP: We never know what kind of “Swift Boat”-type attacks might pop in between Labor Day and Election Day and it seems to me that the Obama campaign will not let any attack, major or minor, pass without a direct response. Is this a trademark of past Obama campaigns in Illinois? The Obama team does not hesitate to strike back, does it?
McClelland: I think this is as much David Axelrod’s influence as Obama’s. During Obama’s Senate campaign, embarrassing divorce files on two opponents — Blair Hull and Jack Ryan — were leaked to the press. Obama will use whatever dirt he can find on Romney.
DP: I get the feeling that the President respects Paul Ryan, but genuinely dislikes Mitt Romney — maybe not personally, but because of Romney’s shifting political sands. You’ve watched Obama for a long time; do you sense that the President has a bit of disdain for Governor Romney?
McClelland: I did read that in POLITICO, but can’t speak to it otherwise.
DP: In your opinion, is this re-election bid the toughest race of Obama’s political career?
McClelland: I think his toughest race was his failed run for Congress against Bobby Rush. But I think this is the race Obama is taking most seriously, and the race he’s most determined to win.
DP: Obviously, political leaders evolve and mature, but from your perspective, has there been a marked change in the President’s personality or tactics that has surprised you?
McClelland: I am a little surprised to see him slinging so much mud at Mitt Romney, since he began his career as a good-government politician and spoke out against dividing America into Red and Blue during his address to the 2004 Democratic National Convention. But because he inherited such a deep recession, he doesn’t have a record of economic growth to run on, so he has to tear down Romney.
DP: Is Obama’s Chicago campaign crew as potent of a machine as it was in 2008, or are there obvious chinks in the armor in the President’s homefront?
McClelland: Well, Romney has been attacking Obama as a “Chicago politician.” The fact that our murder rate is up this year doesn’t reflect well on us, or Obama.
DP: If Mitt Romney wins in November, Barack Obama will be a 51-year-old ex-President. Could he pull a Grover Cleveland and make another run in 2016, or do you think that he (or Michelle) would shut the door on being a candidate for public office in the future?
McClelland: If It’s extremely close, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him run again.
Big thanks to Edward McClelland for answering a few questions for Dead Presidents! If you guys enjoyed it, I’d love to do some more quick author interviews on the blog in the future. As I said earlier (and in my original book review), I strongly recommend McClelland’s Young Mr. Obama. The book gives us some fascinating insight on the type of politician Obama is and you’ll be surprised at some of the obstacles he faced, battles he fought, and lessons he learned as he made his rise through Chicago and Illinois state politics. The book is a steal right now for just $2.99 on Kindle, so go grab it now!
Edward McClelland is also on Twitter @TedMcClelland. Keep an eye out for his next book, Nothin’ But Blue Skies: The Heyday, Hard Times, and Hopes of America’s Industrial Heartland, which will be released on May 14, 2013 by Bloomsbury Press.