Meet Barack Obama, President of the USA
Whether it's Afghanistan, Egypt or health care reforms, his opinion matters. But who is the man in The White House? And what does he find difficult?
He's been voted the 4th Best Dressed Man in the world by Esquire magazine, has read all the Harry Potter books and his favourite food is pizza. But what else do we know about Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States? And has his new job changed him?
'The biggest problem for me is being in the bubble,' he recently revealed in an interview with Fox News. 'It's very hard to escape.'
Obama, a man 'with a deep faith rooted in the Christian tradition', is not new to politics. Born in 1961, on August 4th, he was first elected to the Illinois state senate in 1996 and had been active before that. The Presidency, however, is like nothing else.
'There's no doubt the weight of this office has an impact,' he says. 'Every decision that comes to your desk is something that nobody else has been able to solve. By the time it gets to me, there are no easy answers.'
Barack Obama's parents divorced when he was two, when his father returned to his homeland of Kenya. It was an absence the young Obama found hard.
'My father had left paradise and nothing that my mother or grandparents told me could obviate that single, unassailable fact,' he later reflected. 'They couldn't describe what it might have been like had he stayed.'
His father died in a car accident in Nairobi, when Barack was 22.
'At the time of his death, my father remained a myth to me,' he says, 'both more and less than a man.'
An intermittent smoker who chews gum to fight the habit, he is also a fitness fanatic. Pressure of high office has meant watching less TV and fewer meals out, but he never misses the gym, spending up to 90 minutes a day there in an exhausting mix of weightlifting, treadmill and bicycle work.
'He doesn't think of it as something he has to do,' says his friend Marty Nesbitt. 'It's time for himself, a chance to reflect. It's a break.'
Fun House Mirror
For the President, it's one meeting after the other, an organised succession of encounters, which takes its toll. 'Over time,' he says, he's felt unable 'to have a spontaneous conversation with folks. And that's a loss.'
No wonder then, that one of his favourite past times is phone calls with his wife Michelle, another regular in the gym and with whom he has two daughters.
But as the most famous man in the world, everyone has an opinion about him. Does he mind being hated by so many?
'The folks who hate you don't know you. What they hate is whatever fun house mirror image of you is out there.'
- Politicians should never promise more than they can deliver.
- Is it better for the President to spend time in the gym or to read great novels?
- A 'stump' speech is a speech politicians deliver again and again, with little variation, during election campaigns. It's there to drive home their main points. If you were a politician today, what would be your 5 big ideas for a stump speech? Write them down and deliver the speech.
- Write a letter to Obama suggesting ways he might survive the pressures of his job.
Some People Say...
“I'd totally hate to be President. That's no life.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- Is he a good leader?
- He divides opinion. His campaign slogan was 'Yes we can!' but it hasn't quite been like that in power. As he says, 'You don't have perfect information and you know you're not going to have a perfect solution.'
- So it's more like, 'No, we can't!'
- Well, there's no doubt he had 'an in-tray from hell' on arrival in office, but yes, he had to water down his health care plans to get them through Congress. And then, as Harold Macmillan said, there are 'Events, dear boy, events.'
- How do you mean?
- He had to sack his military commander in Afghanistan for speaking out of turn. And now he's wondering what to do about Egypt, while dreaming of the good old days when he went dancing, played scrabble and watched his favourite films like 'Godfather 1 & 2' and 'Lawrence of Arabia.'