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Obama's management style weighed at debate

January 15, 2008 |  8:55 pm

We saw this one coming.

At tonight's debate among the Democratic presidential candidates, Barack Obama got asked about his recent comments to a Nevada newspaper in which he conceded his managerial skills leave something to be desired. And after he answered, Hillary Clinton pounced (somewhat softly, given the amiable tone that marked most of the forum).

Obama essentially stood by his remarks to the Reno Gazette-Journal, saying at the debate that, to him, "being president is not making sure that schedules are being run properly or the paperwork is being shuffled effectively. It involves having a vision for where the country needs to go."

He added: "My desk and my office doesn't look good. I've got to have somebody around me who is keeping track of that stuff."

Clinton had to bide her time, but, while answering a question about her on strengths and weaknesses, she tried to contrast herself with Obama on the management issue. "I do think that being president is the chief executive officer. I respect what Barack said about setting the vision, setting the tone, bringing people together. But I think you have to be able to manage and run the bureaucracy."

She then delivered a tougher swipe, not-so-subtlety linking Obama to President Bush's management style. ...

   

"You've got to pick good people, certainly, but you have to hold them accountable every single day. We've seen the results of a president who, frankly, failed at that. You know, he went in to office saying he was going to have the kind of Harvard Business School CEO model where he'd set the tone, he'd set the goals and then everybody else would have to implement it.

"And we saw the failures. We saw the failures along the Gulf Coast with, you know, people who were totally incompetent and insensitive failing to help our fellow Americans. ..."

It was an effective effort by Clinton to draw a distinction with her main rival in the nomination battle (which, after all, is what these debates are supposed to do). It's a distinction we expect the Clinton campaign to call attention to in the weeks to come.

But Obama, to his credit, parried the Bush comparison well, disputing the notion that he and the president shared a management style. In fact, he argued, Bush's techniques proved his point.

"You know, I'm sure he never lost a paper," Obama said, drawing a chuckle from the generally non-emotive crowd. "I'm sure he knows where it is. What he could not do is to listen to perspectives that didn't agree with his ideological predispositions. What he could not do is to bring in different people with different perspectives and get them to work together."

We call this exchange a draw.

-- Don Frederick

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