Idealistic Obama bets on collaboration

More than anything, Barack Obama has been on the defensive about a lack of management experience. Four of the past five presidents were previously governors.

Obama likes to point out that he has had two decades of experience: as a community organizer, civil rights lawyer, law professor, Illinois state legislator and now as a U.S. senator.

In the debate in Philadelphia, he added: "I think the next president has to be able to get people to work together to get things done, even when they disagree. And I've done that."

David Mendell writes of several instances in which Obama played middle-of-the-road negotiator in contentious situations, from his time at Harvard Law School, where Obama was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, through eight years in the Illinois Senate.

At Harvard in the late 1980s and early 1990s, in the midst of a debate over whether the term "black" or "African American" was appropriate, Mendell writes that Obama told fellow law students that the argument was irrelevant.

Obama said, "How we use our education in these next three years" to improve the lives of blacks was more important.

After being elected to the Illinois Senate in 1996, representing Chicago's South Side, Obama gained a reputation among Republicans as a Democrat they could work with. His first bill, a campaign finance reform measure, passed 52-4.

Obama also got Republican support for legislation that clamped down on racial profiling by police and for a children's health care measure.

Obama's advisers include several policy wonks from President Clinton's administration: Greg Craig, Anthony Lake and Susan Rice (foreign policy); Eric Holder (legal issues); and James Johnson (fiscal policy).

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's chief of staff, Pete Rouse, runs Obama's Senate office while Obama runs for president. Daschle is an adviser as well.

Scott Althaus, a political scientist at the University of Illinois, says Obama's use of insiders, including those previously aligned with Bill Clinton, is an insight into both his political and management instincts.

"Senator Obama has been talking about being a president who can bring a wide range of people together to work together for a common good," Althaus says. "You see a particular example of how he does this through his staff."

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