My Friends in High Places
Yet another link you can't access without a subscription, but this is very cool so I'm going to quote it extensively. It turns out my friend, and former employer, Tom Lesser was one of the 400 who were invited to President Obama's Hanukkah reception.
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Lesser, 63, was an early, active supporter who raised $500,000 for Obama, helped run his primary and general election campaigns in western Massachusetts, and served on the campaign's New England Steering Committee.If I hadn't left the firm, I would have been the number two man on that team. Not that it would have gained me an invite, but one of the things I really miss about the firm is being so closely involved in Tom's political campaigning for progressive candidates. Tom is also a really good judge of character. He's an old school kind of guy who's not easily taken in by celebrity. I trust his insights.
"He was incredibly present," said Lesser, describing the quality he said he's seen in every exchange with Obama.And I was even more interested in his assessment of Obama's policies.
Whether expressing his thanks for words of support or letting his wry sense of humor show, Obama focuses on the person he's talking to, Lesser said. "He recognizes you and he remembers you. He's not looking at his watch, or looking around him to see who's next," Lesser said.
"That's a remarkable quality in anyone, but especially a politician. There are some politicians you meet and you get the feeling that there's no one home, or that the persona they're projecting is not who they really are. I've never had that feeling with him."
Despite the beautiful, festive White House setting, Lesser, as reflected in his brief exchange with the president, was keenly aware that Obama is facing intense scrutiny and harsh criticism, some of it from erstwhile supporters. One recent poll showed his approval rating dipping below 50 percent for the first time, and another found that only 33 percent of Americans believe the country is headed in the right direction.I'd submit that last line is the quote that sums up the whole debate that's raging right now among progressives.
Asked about those sliding poll numbers, Lesser suggested taking a longer view.
"We are still at the very beginning of this presidency," he said, and it's still a bit soon to be expressing outrage about what has or hasn't happened.
In today's political climate, "people want things to happen very quickly. I understand that," he said, adding that he has felt that way often himself, especially during the years of anti-war protest in the late 1960s. "I learned that things change slowly, that how we think changes slowly."
The administration faces a crucial test, Lesser said, as the U.S. Senate prepares to vote today on its version of a health care bill. After that, the Senate bill and the bill passed by the House of Representatives will have to be reconciled and finally approved.
Though the Senate bill will offer coverage to millions, it is hardly perfect, Lesser said. It doesn't do enough to contain costs or provide enough in subsidies, he said, but there is no question that failure to win passage would be "very damaging" to Obama's political standing. "It would give the Republicans the feeling they can do whatever they want."
Asked about criticism that Obama gave Congress too much latitude to write the bill and didn't fight hard enough for it, Lesser said his sense was that the administration was trying to avoid the pitfall of the Clinton approach of handing Congress a ready-made bill "and watching it be torn to shreds."
The health care debate has shown once again, Lesser said, the country's deep, bitter partisan divide. "That was something he was trying to stop, and he hasn't been able to do that."
On Afghanistan, Lesser said Obama's decision to send 30,000 more troops is consistent with what he said during the campaign. "No one who listened to him should have been surprised," he said.
That said, Lesser described the challenge there in daunting terms.
"I don't think anyone has ever succeeded in that country," Lesser said. "But I think he thought long and hard about it, and he has a lot more information than I do. I think he believes it would be an absolute disaster there if we just left now."
...Asked if he had any final words for those who are ready to label the Obama presidency a disappointment, Lesser said he would appeal for more time. Paying less attention to pundits - who are often wrong, he pointed out - might also help, he said. And finally, he would urge people to work for candidates who will fight for the measures they support.
"We can't create change by talking about it," he said. "We have to get more votes."
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