I met an old friend last week who had played a senior role in John McCain’s presidential campaign. A genial sort, he was in typically good spirits, his campaign wounds licked almost—though not quite—to the point of healing. In his free time after Nov. 4, he had managed to break the state of exhaustion that a campaign induces, and had resumed living something like a normal, civilized life. The proof was a rambling, apolitical lunch, something he never could have afforded last October.
After many months on a high-pressure campaign, a deep, seemingly unshakable fatigue sets in. Yet the Obama team has been performing on the political high wire nonstop for more than two years. Obama launched his campaign in January 2007, and Hillary Clinton kept the primary campaign at fever pitch until June 2008. Then, the rough-and-tumble general election was followed by an expedited transition and attempts to grapple with the mounting financial crisis, leaving little opportunity to stand down. “I don’t know how they can keep doing it,” my friend said. “I was dead by November.” Internet Standard Time has only added to the strain. Today, a news cycle can last four hours, or less, then subside as a new wave of attack and counterattack, spin and mud, exposé and innuendo takes shape. The people who do this work well tend to be energized by battle. But they can’t help but be depleted by it, as well. Judging by the polls, most Americans wish Obama and his troops well. Others say they wish them ill. But given the size and scope of the challenges still to come, I can’t help wishing they’d get some sleep.