Author Michael Lewis' Six Months With President Obama
Senior Talent Producer, "Power Lunch"
Michael Lewis, acclaimed author of "Boomerang," "The Big Short," "Moneyball" and "The Blind Side," was given exclusive access for six months with President Barack Obama. Lewis wrote an in-depth profile on the president for Vanity Fair's October issue.
He discussed his experience on CNBC's "Power Lunch" Tuesday and at length off-air.
CNBC: How did you nab the most exclusive interview ever given by a sitting president? (Read More:Obama - Our Problems Can Be Solved.)
Lewis: I sent an email to Jay Carney [White House press secretary] saying someone should write an old school journalist style [profile], like Harry Truman’s profile in the New Yorker way back when. Carney rang me back and said, “He wants to make it happen.” I went. “Who’s ‘HE'?” — Carney is like, um, HE is the president. Come in, we’ll have you talk to our staff and see ... how we can do it.
So I go through and meet every single member of the staff, in an process more rigorous than a Goldman Sachs interview rounds. … I mean I met with everyone ... and finally, one day, never even knowing if it would happen or not, I get called into the Oval Office, and boom, I am talking to Obama for one full hour, about an email he received from an irate parent at his daughters' school, about coaching soccer games, and then we’re talking "Moneyball," the movie, for a long time, and "Boomerang" and "The Big Short" and the financial crisis and I realized shortly into the conversation, “I don’t have to really sell myself, I‘m in, I got it."
But later on, his White House staff really said to me, we personally don’t think there’s any upside to having you embedded for months, but he [President Obama] … wants it, so there you go.
And the staff pretty much treated me as someone tolerated, but I really think Obama himself was kind of amused to have me around to talk to when he had a free moment.
For six months, I got a Secret Service pin on my lapel that identified me as a member of the staff, and could stand right next to him. I traveled with them everywhere — Cartagena, Colombia, you name it — and anytime there was a free 30 minutes, Obama came and grabbed me to talk.
CNBC: Can you describe Obama’s basketball game?
Lewis: I would call it “a long game.” Obama is tactical and sees ahead a few steps and tries to look down the horizon and not take "stupid shots" — his team tends to win because they are less risky. He is almost “sniper-like” in his decisions on the court and very, very, very competitive. Wow. He’s 51, and he‘s not young, but he has got game and desire to "win.”
CNBC: Why didn’t President Obama choose Wall Street after school?
Lewis: I asked him, I said, we’re the same age, the same background, we went to Ivy Leagues and during our generation, ’81, ’82, Wall Street firms were recruiting on campus heavily and that’s where our peers were going, and you didn’t, why not? He said, “That was not my end game. It was not my calling. I was never going to be “the money guy.”
But you get the sense if he did go that route, he would have ended up being in charge of Goldman Sachs. Obama had that right combination of talent and charm and community building skills that could place him at the pinnacle of Goldman Sachs — he had exactly the right combination to lead that firm if he went that direction.
Michael Lewis enters Obama's "Beast" limo.
CNBC: Describe the “Beast” limo.
Michael Lewis: It’s huge, it has new car smell, a nuclear bomb could drop on it and you would still feel safe, and you and the cockroaches would come crawling out. The shelf next to the president’s seat has a place for him to recharge his Blackberry, and a recharger for his iPad in the middle next to a big hulking phone ... and he liked to prank me.