January 18, 2008

"Because I'm an ordinary person, I thought..."

I'm not declaring favorites in the presidential campaign, but I've got to say that stuff like this makes me love Obama, at least on a personal level:
Obama began by recalling a moment in Tuesday night's debate when he and his rivals were asked to name their biggest weakness. Obama answered first, saying he has a messy desk and needs help managing paperwork - something his opponents have since used to suggest he's not up to managing the country. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards said his biggest weakness is that he has a powerful response to seeing pain in others, and Clinton said she gets impatient to bring change to America.

"Because I'm an ordinary person, I thought that they meant, 'What's your biggest weakness?'" Obama said to laughter from a packed house at Rancho High School. "If I had gone last I would have known what the game was. And then I could have said, 'Well, ya know, I like to help old ladies across the street. Sometimes they don't want to be helped. It's terrible.'"


Silas said...

"Because I'm an ordinary person, I thought that they meant, 'What's your biggest weakness?'" Obama said to laughter from a packed house at Rancho High School.

No, if you're an ordinary person, not a "community activist" turned Senator, you're familiar with that useless question from job interviews and know how to answer it.

(Admittedly, Clinton has even less experience with "ordinary" jobs than Obama.)

MadisonMan said...

I have a messy desk too. But I know exactly where everything is on it.

Latino said...

Yes, Obama is charming. Like Satan.

Bruce Hayden said...

At least Obama sounds honest here. His opponents sound totally full of BS. Neither is credible. Edwards isn't running a soup kitchen on his farm across the street from the trailor park, nor, indeed, appears to be doing anything else for those in need, except promising to spend everyone else's money solving the problems of the downtrodden. And to the best of my knowledge, Clinton in her impatience to make change, has no Senate bills named after her. What has she done in her 7 years in the Senate, except to run for president?

Of course, Obama hasn't done any more as a Senator than the other two. But, then he didn't claim to be impatient for change or be overly sensitive to feeling the hurt of others.

Ali said...

This question is so job interview. And for everything that I have ever read in a women's magazine about how to answer this question is, you don't really. All 3 candidates did this. With Obama, his answer was purely superficial. As in, "oh yes, my desk is messy, but who cares when I am so inspiring?" I've read in women's magazines that it is okay to talk about your messy desk when you reference all that you manage to get done despite it. If Obama really mentioned his biggest weakness he would have spoke about his lack of executive experience and limited foreign affairs/policy experience.

Unknown said...

"Yes, Obama is charming. Like Satan."

Yes, this may be exactly right. But he is so much better than Hillary!

It is far better for the Republic for the Democrats to kill off the Satan we know for the Satan we do not than to take a chance in November.

Roger J. said...

Wasnt there some research last year that suggested a messy desk is a sign of productivity and innovation. The logic, IIRC, was that a person who fusses with a desk top just to keep it clean is doing non-productive work; a messy desk person doesnt sweat the small stuff, and is engaged in external issues. At any rate--viva messy desk managers. Clean desk managers are anal retentive and suffer from OCD.

criticaljunkie said...

This is so true! I thought on a personal level, this was wonderful stuff which shows you why Obama is such an engaging character. Now as to whether likability will win you the election is another issue all together.

Peter V. Bella said...

Clinton says her weekness is her impatience to make change. She is running as the change candidate? How is that impatience a weakness; or didn't I read what she said?

Obama proves he can connect with people, he has a sense of humor. All Hillary has is a sense of destiny.

Elliott A said...

Obama's straighforward manner is refreshing after hearing BS spewing from Hillary and Edwards. His contrast to them is remarkable and the cause of his current success. He apparently still know how to look at the world as an ordinary person.

Latino said...

"Engaging" "likable" "connects with people" "sense of humor" "refreshing."
Get real, people. Is he running for president or as a sidekick to Regis Philbin?

Randy said...

His was the only genuine, remotely normal answer. Edwards continues to be as phony as a $3 bill. How on earth this plastic man still gets votes is beyond me. As the final replier, it seems to me that Clinton followed the wrong lead there. While the answer itself is like her, the failure to anticipate how it will play later is rather unlike her.

Roger J. said...

What ali said. I while back I used to apply for various jobs while I was employed and had no reason to leave--it was just to keep my hand in the resume and job interview process. I applied for a job I didnt' particularly want, and got to the interview process--and I got that question about my "weakness." I answered something to the effect that I had no weaknesses that would detract from my performance on this job and had I had any, I would not have applied. (Of course, I cribbed that answer from some magazine). The expression on the interviewers face was priceless.

Anonymous said...

Like he himself admits, if he answered last or even after anyone of the presidential candidate, he too managed to answer in a tricky way...
Breakdown Recovery

Cedarford said...

I give that round to Obama for honesty. Having done hiring interviews, I have argued with the HR people about asking that question simply for the gag-worthy responses it solicits from hyper ambitious people who have traveled cross country and sometimes cross continents.

"My biggest flaw as the most outstanding scholar in my city of Ghatarib in India was to not present myself as superior to my fellow mates because I love teamwork so much...."

"Excelling in sports and academics, devoting many of my spare hours to helping the poor and the unfortunate, interested in poetry and beauty contests and mentoring minorities...I suppose my biggest flaw was I had difficulty in chosing which fields I would apply myself and be the best at..."

"Sometimes, honestly, I think I care too much about people around me and helping them succeed."

"Flaw? Well, my grades were great, but I don't retain calculus well. Or electric circuits, so if you have me working on a project with a lot of that stuff, understand I will need help or time to refresh what I seem to not be able to do on memory alone...."

"People say I am too committed and success-oriented. But my Hispanic parents who arrived here with nothing say it is from my sense of honor and desire to make them proud of me. I know I have a German last name, but my parents were Brazilian, and I have two Hispanic grandparents"

"My problem is that I am conflicted between my talent for being self driven and responsible for good results and my deep commitment to teamwork that elevates from diversity of all stakeholders of any ethnicity, race, skin color, gender,blah, blah,,,"

Give me the guy that says he is a bonehead about retaining calc and electrical theory.

(I now limit my questions to stuff on resume`s and grade transcripts and basic bio.)

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I liked Obama's answer as well, being a messy desk person myself. It was a normal answer to a stupid job interview question. The other answers were fake and pretentious.

I was once asked in an interview for a position as a stockbroker for a nationally known firm: What would be my greatest obstacle to overcome and what would be my greatest strength in the position.

I answered: "being a woman" for both questions. The guy didn't know what to say. I got the job.

PatCA said...

Obama is becoming sort of the meta candidate. He stands as a comment on campaigning itself rather than on the actual issues. It's interesting and smart and amusing but I wouldn't trust him as C in C any more than I would a Communications professor.

former law student said...

but I wouldn't trust him as C in C any more than I would a Communications professor.

You'll miss that good old inarticulate guy, W., won't you?

MarkW said...

I would have liked even better an answer something like, "You know -- that's a standard trick interview question, and there are really three ways of answering. You can either try to spin some strength into a weakness (I'm a perfectionist) or you can pick something trivial (I can't carry a tune) or you can actually bash yourself. The first two are phony and the last is stupid, so I'm not going to answer.

Hillary and Edwards picked option #1 and Obama went with #2. Obama's answer is better, but still an evasion. If you don't want to answer the question, just say so and explain why. The interviewer may not like it, but the rest of us will be silently cheering from the sidelines.

From Inwood said...

The biggest weakness of the reporters who run these debates is that they don't know how to run these debates. That is, how to ask sensible, probing questions & how to follow up when a successful pol, whose shtick is to answer questions with a set speech with some, mostly irrelevant, bromide(s), answers their question with a set speech with some, mostly irrelevant, bromide(s).

Or maybe it’s just the inherent weakness of the debating formulas.

So we watch, mostly bored to death, for the few instances of candidate disasters like Hillary’s license pseudolalia.

JohnAnnArbor said...

I liked his answer; it sounded honest. But Obama is too clever by half; he can show Hillary-level bare-knuckle ambition:

The day after New Year's 1996, operatives for Barack Obama filed into a barren hearing room of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.

There they began the tedious process of challenging hundreds of signatures on the nominating petitions of state Sen. Alice Palmer, the longtime progressive activist from the city's South Side. And they kept challenging petitions until every one of Obama's four Democratic primary rivals was forced off the ballot.

So much for all his soaring rhetoric.

Freder Frederson said...

"Engaging" "likable" "connects with people" "sense of humor" "refreshing."
Get real, people. Is he running for president or as a sidekick to Regis Philbin?

Gee, wasn't it just four short years ago that W's outstanding qualification for president was that he would be more fun to have a beer with than Kerry?

Paul said...

"You'll miss that good old inarticulate guy, W., won't you?"

A man with a spine trumps one with a silver tongue.

"Obama is becoming sort of the meta candidate. He stands as a comment on campaigning itself rather than on the actual issues."

Exactly right.

George M. Spencer said...

Beware of any powerful person who says that he is, aw shucks, just "ordinary."

Yesterday you put up a video in which he said he did not think he was "a singular person."

Tomorrow he will tell us that he does not have much book learning.

reader_iam said...

Shouldn't that be "book larnin'"?

vnjagvet said...

I can't help it. Obama strikes me as being very bright and extraordinarily adept socially. So far as I know, Editor in Chief of the Harvard Law Review is not a patronage job or the result of a popularity contest.

Satan or not, he is a formidable candidate who comes across far less calculating than his democratic rivals. That he is in fact calculating is a bonus.

You cannot be a good President without a streak of ruthlessness and without minipulative skill.

See, e.g., FDR, Ike, JFK, Reagan, and earlier, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln and TR.

Most of those Presidents (Jefferson and Jackson are the exceptions) skillfully hid the ruthlessness and minipulativeness behind very agreeable personalities.

I am not arguing that Obama would be a great president. I am arguing that the personality traits described on this comment string would not disqualify him in my eyes.

Smilin' Jack said...

If I had gone last I would have known what the game was.

Translation: "I'm too ignorant to recognize this trite overused interview question, and my staff is too incompetent to have prepped me for it. I'm too dumb to extemporize the appropriate answer myself, but maybe if the others had gone first I could have gotten a clue from them. And BTW, vote for me, I'm a leader!"

Peter V. Bella said...

It is not that Obama is ruthless, clever, or even has bare knucle ambition.. Obama was practicing a particular form of politcs. It is rare in other parts of the country, yet people thirst to learn its secrets.

The secrets are only shared with a chosen few, ususally Democrats who gain national prominence.

This form of politics is steeped in history and has had a major effect on Democratic presidential candidates. Harrison, FDR, Truman, JFK, LBJ, and Clinton benefitted mightily from this art form?

What is this arcane and esoteric form of politics that is so powerful and a force to be reckoned with?

It is called the Chicago way.

JohnAnnArbor said...

It is called the Chicago way.

Well, it sure isn't democracy.

Latino said...

I never said Obama's engaging personality disqualified him to be president, my point was that these traits alone do not qualify him to be president. He is a one term senator who is completely unready to be president.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Tee-hee! I'm reminded of a favorite item from Matthew Parris & Phil Mason's Read My Lips: A Treasury of the Things Politicians Wish They Hadn't Said:

In 1948, a Washington radio station contacted ambassadors in the capital, asking what each would most like for Christmas. Britain's representative, Sir Oliver Franks, mistook the request.

French ambassador: Peace throughout the world.
Soviet ambassador: Freedom for all people enslaved by imperialism.
Sir Oliver: Well, it's very kind of you to ask. I'd quite like a box of crystallized fruit.

former law student said...

Obama appeared honest and forthright; his opponents seemed phony. Why do commenters think he should act like he's a graduate of State A&M applying to be a management trainee?

Randy said...

Interesting translation, Smilin' Jack. As his original answer was much better than anything his advisers could come up with, it seems like he wasn't so stupid after all. In fact, his proposed alternative once he realized what game was being played was equally good and puts the answers of the other two in equally stark contrast. Which is why both were hammering on his first answer days later - they looked like idiots in comparison (and their answers probably hurt them with focus groups).

Strange, people are always complaining about the controlled nature of the candidates' comments and the minute one gives a spontaneous one, people complain about their inability to grasp the need to give a canned reply. Can't win either way, I guess.

Peter V. Bella said...

JohnAnnArbor said...
It is called the Chicago way.

Well, it sure isn't democracy.

Chicago is not a democracy. It is a Democratically controlled city, but not a democracy. Never has been, never will be. Soviet Russia was more of a democracy than the city of Chicago.

However, if you want to learn how to win elections, the Chicago Way is the Phd program.

Trooper York said...

Malone: You said you wanted to get Capone. Do you really wanna get him? You see what I'm saying is, what are you prepared to do?
Ness: Anything within the law.
Malone: And *then* what are you prepared to do? If you open the can on these worms you must be prepared to go all the way. Because they're not gonna give up the fight, until one of you is dead.
Ness: I want to get Capone! I don't know how to do it.
Malone: You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. *That's* the *Chicago* way! And that's how you get Capone. Now do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that? I'm offering you a deal. Do you want this deal?
(The Untouchables, 1987)

hdhouse said...

and how would the Geo-Pee-Rs have answered?

McCain - don't waste my time.
Romney - my inability to recognize myself as DOA
Huck - when I started doubting the magnificence of Christ and abide by the law
Paul - I don't have one.
Rudy - 9/11 of course
Fred - the all you can eat buffet

PatCA said...

"You'll miss that good old inarticulate guy, W., won't you?"

Objection, your HOnor, irrelevant, immaterial, non-responsive.

ricpic said...

Tomatoes and pickles on a hot dog? The Chicago Way doesn't impress me!

Meade said...

Obama already has someone to love him. No, I'm not running for president but I am an ordinary guy. How about it? You can love me. On a personal level, I mean. Wait wait. I have weaknesses. I'll share them with you. Lots and lots of weaknesses. Give me a minute, I'll think of one.

Give me another minute.

Steven said...

I'm cynical enough to suspect that Obama knew the question, knew how you were "supposed" to answer it, and deliberately answered it in the "naive" way deliberately, just so he could make the point today that the others answered it the manipulative way.

Which, of course, would be just as manipulative, but much more clever, than the way the other two handled it.

Peter V. Bella said...

ricpic said...
Tomatoes and pickles on a hot dog? The Chicago Way doesn't impress me!

You really would not like the Chicago typewriter either.

Revenant said...

Obama's handled this pretty brilliantly, I think. Giving a real answer to the question makes him look like someone who genuinely thinks about things, in contrast to the Hillary/Edwards routine of "pull my string and I repeat my 1 stock phrase". Even if it was calculated on his part, it still makes him look both smarter and more human.