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Obama and the Presidency

Marc Andreessen had the opportunity to sit down with Barack Obama for a long chat a while back. There were a couple of really interesting insights that I wanted to highlight here.

One of the supposed questions about Barack Obama is based on the fact that he doesn’t have the executive experience that many recent Presidents have had, as a Governor or leading a major agency of some sort. Marc asked Obama about it, and here’s what he wrote:

We asked him directly, how concerned should we be that you haven’t had meaningful experience as an executive — as a manager and leader of people?

He said, watch how I run my campaign — you’ll see my leadership skills in action.

At the time, I wasn’t sure what to make of his answer — political campaigns are often very messy and chaotic, with a lot of turnover and flux; what conclusions could we possibly draw from one of those?

Well, as Marc wrote, the answer is pretty clear:

Well, as any political expert will tell you, it turns out that the Obama campaign has been one of the best organized and executed presidential campaigns in memory. Even Obama’s opponents concede that his campaign has been disciplined, methodical, and effective across the full spectrum of activities required to win — and with a minimum of the negative campaigning and attack ads that normally characterize a race like this, and with almost no staff turnover. By almost any measure, the Obama campaign has simply out-executed both the Clinton and McCain campaigns.

This speaks well to the Senator’s ability to run a campaign, but speaks even more to his ability to recruit and manage a top-notch group of campaign professionals and volunteers — another key leadership characteristic. When you compare this to the awe-inspiring discord, infighting, and staff turnover within both the Clinton and McCain campaigns up to this point — well, let’s just say it’s a very interesting data point.

Compare that to the NYTimes article on Hillary Clinton:

But even as Mrs. Clinton revived her fortunes last week with victories in Ohio, Rhode Island and Texas, the questions lingered about how she managed her campaign, with the internal sniping and second-guessing undermining her well-cultivated image as a steady-at-the-wheel chief executive surrounded by a phalanx of loyal and efficient aides.

“She hasn’t managed anything as complex as this before; that’s the problem with senators,” said James A. Thurber, a professor of government at American University who is an expert on presidential management. “She wasn’t as decisive as she should have been. And it’s a legitimate question to ask: Under great pressure from two different factions, can she make some hard decisions and move ahead? It seems to just fester. She doesn’t seem to know how to stop it or want to stop it.”

and

Still, interviews with campaign aides, associates and friends suggest that Mrs. Clinton, at least until February, was a detached manager. Juggling the demands of being a candidate, she paid little attention to detail, delegated decisions large and small and deferred to advisers on critical questions. Mrs. Clinton accepted or seemed unaware of the intense factionalism and feuding that often paralyzed her campaign and that prevented her aides from reaching consensus on basic questions like what states to fight in and how to go after Mr. Obama, of Illinois.

Mrs. Clinton showed a tendency toward an insular management style, relying on a coterie of aides who have worked for her for years, her aides and associates said. Her choice of lieutenants, and her insistence on staying with them even when friends urged her to shake things up, was blamed by some associates for the campaign’s woes. Again and again, the senator was portrayed as a manager who valued loyalty and familiarity over experience and expertise.

As I’ve written a couple of times before, he’s got my vote!