Before he gets into the actual interview though, Brinkley tells a couple of stories.
Over the summer, I brought my wife and kids to an Obama rally in the Ohio town of Maumee, not far from where I grew up. The president delivered a speech about how bailing out GM and Chrysler saved thousands of jobs in Ohio. When he started working the rope line, two young African-American girls began squealing with joy. Playing the good Samaritan, I escorted them to the front of the line so they would be sure to meet the president. The younger girl asked Obama to sign her T-shirt with a Sharpie.Brinkley captures it all with his reference to President Obama being "able to differentiate." What it says to me is that - as much as possible - he approaches each person (especially children) individually...relating to them eye to eye, human to human. And of course when it comes to young people, with the eye of a responsible adult.
"How old are you?" he asked.
He gladly obliged.
The older girl had the same request. Obama, however, eyed her with warm parental disapproval. "How old are you?" he asked.
"Fourteen," she replied. The same age as Malia Obama.
"Oh, no," the president said with a broad smile, crouching down to make eye contact. "You're too old to have someone writing on your clothes. Do you understand? That's a nice shirt you have. Take care of it. I'll give you a fist-bump instead."
It was a wonderful moment to witness. This wasn't a president who merely kissed babies for votes. Even though the commotion all around him was louder than a Sousa band, Obama was able to differentiate the ages of the two girls, and then offer the older one a lesson about being a young woman and having selfrespect.
I was reminded of this incident when our interview with the president ended. As we left the Oval Office, executive editor Eric Bates told Obama that he had asked his six-year-old if there was anything she wanted him to say to the president. After a thoughtful pause, she said, "Tell him: You can do it."
Obama grinned. "That's the only advice I need," he said. "I do very well, by the way, in that demographic. Ages six to 12? I'm a killer."
"Thought about lowering the voting age?" Bates joked.
"You know, kids have good instincts," Obama offered. "They look at the other guy and say, 'Well, that's a bullshitter, I can tell.'"
Some of you might think I've taken too big of a leap, but it made me think of something Derrick Jensen said in his book The Culture of Make Believe. He was talking about the corporatization of America and the way that enables hate.
He said, "They're cousins." I just listened. "Nobody talks about this," he said, "but they're branches from the same tree, different forms of the same cultural imperative...President Obama might not be very good at the objectifying art of back-slapping the power brokers and glad-handing the DC elite. But when it comes to interacting with everyday folks, his focus on getting outside of that bubble is all about maintaining a sense of subjectivity in every interaction. That's why he does so well with the 6-12 year old demographic...he's no bullshitter and they know it.
"To rob the world of its subjectivity."
"Wait - " I said.
"Or to put this another way," he continued, " to turn everyone and everything into objects."