Michael Lewis on his Vanity Fair profile of Obama: ‘He’s an interesting cat’


Whether or not you personally like President Obama or approve of his policies, Vanity Fair contributing editor Michael Lewis wants you to know one thing: “He’s an interesting cat.”

“He’s different,” Lewis, the author of Moneyball and Liar’s Poker, told Rachel Maddow on Tuesday’s The Rachel Maddow Show. His new Vanity Fair piece, “Obama’s Way,” focuses on the president’s decision to conduct American airstrikes in Libya in March 2011. While researching and writing the piece, Lewis was given 8 months of access to Obama.

What the writer learned from those months, he said, was that the president has a unique way of handling difficult choices, particularly those choices that are “thrust upon him.” One such choice was thrust upon Obama, Lewis said, in the moment when now-deceased Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi “[marched] through the desert, promising to exterminate a million people in [Libyan capital] Benghazi.”

Lewis said he centered his profile of Obama around Libya because he “wanted to find a decision that sort of had [Obama’s] fingerprints all over it.” Obama’s Libya policy, he said, succeeded because the president found an unconventional solution to the problems confronting him.

“It’s a very interesting dynamic he created,” Lewis said. “He solved a problem; he went outside of the process to solve the problem, in such a way that it was not construed as an act of American imperialism or a lust for Libyan oil. It was just a humanitarian intervention, and it worked. It’s one of his triumphs, what he did in Libya, and as a result, you don’t hear a lot about it.”

Hindsight may be 20/20, but Lewis was quick to note that the decision was not an easy one, and could have just as easily been a tactical mistake.

During a Monday night appearance at Lincoln Center with Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Graydon Carter, Lewis revealed he had to submit his quotes to the White House for approval before publication.

Libya and Barack Obama

Michael Lewis on his Vanity Fair profile of Obama: 'He's an interesting cat'