Idealistic Obama bets on collaboration

On race, Obama has a vision designed to inspire fellow blacks on traditional civil rights fronts and honor civil rights pioneers whose sacrifices opened doors for him. He has given strong speeches about being black in America, telling biographer David Mendell, "When I see young African-American men out there and the struggles they go through, I connect with that."

In a speech about civil rights in South Carolina, Obama portrayed his candidacy as standing on the shoulders of civil rights workers but said, in essence, that equality in education, the courts and the economy, were goals shared by people of all races.

"I am not asking anyone to take a chance on me," he said Nov. 2 in Manning, S.C. "I am asking you to take a chance on your own aspirations."

Some have questioned whether Obama's upbringing — which included living with a mother who sometimes struggled economically, living overseas and going to an exclusive Hawaii boarding school — made him "black enough" to understand the problems facing average blacks.

Emil Jones, the Illinois Senate president, discounts that argument and says it is irrelevant for a man who wants to be president of all Americans.

"When you run for president of the country, you are not running for the presidency of the black community," Jones says.

Ron Walters, a political scientist at the University of Maryland, says Obama has gone a step further than just offering himself as a president who aspires to bring people together. He says Obama has addressed poverty and offered "clearly articulated" positions on national health care and on the Iraq war.

Decision-making style

Barack Obama is an avowed collaborator. Aides often try to portray him as the opposite of President Bush, who has famously described himself as "the decider" in an attempt to show resolve, consistency and toughness.

"The Bush administration is an insular circle of like-minded people that nod their head every time the boss says something," says Robert Gibbs, Obama's communications director. "The White House needs somebody who is not going to sit around the table agreeing with everything he says."

Gibbs, who has been with Obama since he ran for the Senate in 2004, describes him as "somebody with a tremendous amount of intellectual curiosity who will talk to people who know more about things than he does. He is somebody who makes up his own mind, but he is not going to go out and say he is 'the decider,' meaning he doesn't listen to the viewpoints of anybody else."

The downside of Obama's reflective, collaborative style is that it can make a leader look indecisive. One example occurred in early November. Several Obama campaign aides anonymously criticized the candidate's reluctance to get tougher with Sen. Hillary Clinton in simultaneous stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post. The result: Not only did it telegraph what Obama would do in an impending debate, it opened the window to internal dissent and showed that Obama's inner circle was willing to go outside to force changes.

As an example of his willingness to stand alone with resolve, Obama cites his decision to speak out against going to war in Iraq just days before Congress voted to give President Bush the authority to do so. Obama says he spoke out even though friends warned him he might be hurting his political career.

Management skills

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