Ben Rhodes: I Entered Politics Without Clinton, Panetta’s Experience in ‘Limelight’

• June 10, 2018 12:51 pm


Ben Rhodes, the former deputy national security adviser to Barack Obama, explained Sunday that he started working for Obama without much relevant experience and was surprised by how difficult it was.

CNN’s Fareed Zakaria commented on Rhodes’ hair loss during his eight years in the White House, leading Rhodes to describe how he became a "punching bag" during that time. He had pursued being a novelist before joining Obama’s campaign in 2007 when he was just 29 years old.

"I was a normal person," he said. "I wasn't like a Hillary Clinton or a Leon Panetta. I came into this without that kind of experience of the limelight, and then to go on this journey and to be in the room for some really consequential and difficult decisions and to wrestle with that myself, to become in many ways kind of a punching bag."

Rhodes said his memoir, The World As It Is, described "the strange experience of kind of becoming a right-wing villain, which I did not set out to do, and I don't advise anybody to do it. It's not pleasant."

He said experiencing the "rough and tumble of politics" led to his idealism being "chastened," even though he expects Obama’s ideas to triumph.

"I came out on the other end, yes, somewhat chastened in my idealism but still maintaining the basic beliefs that led me to work for Barack Obama in the first place and that leads me to believe that ten, 20 years from now the world will look more like Barack Obama and his politics than Donald Trump," he said.

Rhodes, who joined MSNBC and NBC News as an analyst this month, has lamented that President Donald Trump has been dismantling Obama's key foreign policy accomplishments. He has admitted to being "shellshocked" that Trump defeated Obama’s former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, although he has cautioned against "over-reading" the election as a rebuke of Obama.

During his time with Obama, Rhodes had a mixed relationship with the media. He said he created a media "echo chamber" to foster support for the Iran nuclear agreement, but he also publicly complained about how the media covered the issues.