When first elected, Obama supposedly sought to secure his personal and political identity by emulating Abraham Lincoln’s “Team of Rivals,” enlisting political opposites to his inner circle. This included making Hillary Clinton, whom he defeated in a hotly contested 2008 primary contest, his secretary of state and keeping on Defense Chief Robert Gates, who served in that capacity under Obama’s Republican predecessor, George W. Bush.
Today, the “Team of Rivals” is more appearance than reality. “He thought it was a great idea and ever since he’s backtracked, he didn’t really do it,” Maraniss says. When top appointments are made, the paramount consideration usually is how the people fit the president’s “comfort” zone…
Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, noted the other day that he had just finished reading the fourth installment of Robert Caro’s epic biography of Lyndon Johnson. He thought of the contrast with Obama. “Johnson,” Bush says, “would have grabbed people by the shoulders, ears, head. He would have convinced John Boehner that it was his patriotic duty to step up. He would have charmed whoever was the guy who needed to be charmed, or the gal, to get the budget done.”
Obama may not be capable of the personal engagement of a LBJ or FDR. Still, Maraniss believes, more than most politicians or most people, he has “throughout his life shown a capacity to learn and grow and change.”