‘Radically optimistic’: the thinktank chief who believes the US can ‘self-correct’ | US politics

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Barack Obama could be forgiven for considering himself a big shot. But Patrick Gaspard used to keep his ego in check.

“You’re of course an extraordinary historic figure but I’m sorry, this doesn’t compare,” Gaspard would joke, “meeting Nelson Mandela will always be the top of Mount Kilimanjaro for me.

The 53-year-old has a unique perspective on the men who became the US’s and South Africa’s first Black presidents. As a trade unionist and community activist, he first met Mandela a few months after his release from prison. Later he became close to Obama, serving in his White House and as his diplomat in South Africa.

Now Gaspard is the new president and chief executive of the Center for American Progress (CAP), described by the Politico website as “the most influential think tank of the Biden era”. He succeeds Neera Tanden, who left to become a senior adviser to the…

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