Somewhere between White House Hunk and Poetic Policy Wonk is the core of Jon Favreau, a guy who hasn’t been afraid to worry aloud (in that first New York Times profile) about losing his bearings. Andrei Cherny, his former boss, says, "I really think Favs is a once-in-a-generation talent—not only because of his intelligence or his fluidity with words, but because he’s a normal person. A lot of people in the political world are not. He’s able to connect with real people."
During our dinner, Favreau said nearly the same thing about his boss. "With Obama, you think it’s almost like he’s so great because of his regularness. This is a guy who thinks like us, like regular people do. He approaches things in a commonsense sort of way. He constantly says things and you think, ‘Yeah, that’s it!’ And he’s genuine and very nice."
It’s naive to take that statement at face value, coming from a young staffer about his boss, the man who happens to be the president. But there is something about Favreau that makes you wish you could. When I asked his mother why he’d decided against elective office for himself, she said, "Jon is an emotional-type person. Very honest and very sincere…not that there aren’t sincere politicians out there, but you have to have a real tough shell. Jon may not have that now, but you never know, in a few years…."
Favreau told me that his biggest concern was to not get bogged down in the day-to-day partisan pettiness—"the crap you hear on TV, the issue of the day." Then he talked about reading Robert Kennedy’s speeches and how he admired their "riskiness," their expansive sense of talking to "the conscience of the country."
That is all well and good, of course, but Robert Kennedy never got a chance to govern. Governing is messy, something Favreau and his colleagues are learning on a daily basis. In September, Obama gave his speech on healthcare reform before the joint session of Congress, which would be remembered not for an Obama/Favreau line, but for two words shouted by South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson: "You lie!"
"There were so many times in the Obama campaign when people said we were dead," Favreau told me. "And since the administration started, we have been getting beaten up in the press from time to time. The crap of politics that I saw during the Kerry campaign is still there, but Obama was able to rise above it."
Favreau had packed up his BlackBerrys and was ready to head home. "It’s going to be a tough road ahead," he said, probably more prophetically than he would have wished. "Obviously it’s going to be harder to govern than it was to campaign." Then the ghostwriter borrowed someone else’s famous phrase. You campaign with poetry, he said, but you govern with prose.