A New Kind of Tough Guy
Jan 27, 2009 | 3448 views | 0 0 comments | 47 47 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Forget which president you'd rather drink a beer with. Which president would you rather walk with across the city, any city, dodging speeding cabs, bike messengers and squad cars as you navigate the neighborhood towards your favorite bodega?

For many, regardless of party affiliation, that answer would have to be President Barack Obama. He's the only president in recent memory that knows anything about big city living. President Obama is the first full-time city resident elected to the Oval Office since Richard Nixon in 1968. For that matter, he's the first president who has lived exclusively in big cities his entire life since Theodore Roosevelt was elected president more than one century ago.

These facts are not mere trivia points. Obama's connection to urban life, and the ways in which his personal and political perspective is shaped by that experience, does set him apart from his predecessors in a very important way - one that has been largely overlooked as the nation focuses on the breaking of the race barrier.

Less than two weeks into his presidency, it is clear Obama's administration is more urban centric than any since Lyndon B. Johnson's in the 1960's, if ever.

Many of Obama's cabinet-level appointments are men and women from major cities. To name a few, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is from Brooklyn, Attorney General-designate Eric Holder is from the Bronx, and the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, is from Washington D.C. Some of the president's closest advisers and friends from Chicago have followed him to the Capitol.

The result is the most multi-racial and, arguably, culturally sensitive and sophisticated Cabinet and White House team in a very long time, a group of people leading government that were born and raised in cities whose urban roots will no doubt influence all of the administration's policies from housing and education to health care and the environment.

This approach has its perils, of course. As a candidate, Obama was often criticized by opponents for his seeming inability to connect with working-class rural and suburban Americans. (A claim that was true at times). By surrounding himself with like-minded urban intellectual elites, the conservative argument goes, Obama is running the risk of losing touch with on-the-ground, blue-collar American reality.

This is certainly a possibility, but only a faint one. Though its clear Obama lacks the local charm - or country toughness - of a Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, it is equally apparent this president has street smarts. No president has had any in a long while. Let's see where that gets us.

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