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Obama, the (socially challenged?) president?

Something that has always fascinated me is how Barack Obama ever got into politics in the first place. As we have seen on many occasions, but most clearly during the shutdown, he seems to be lacking the basic tools of  common and garden variety politics: he is totally unable to get close to people on a personal level and talk them into doing what he wants them to do.

Sociability and politics go hand in hand in democracy, the knack for connecting with strangers on a human level is what democratic politics are all about and Obama seems to be lacking this basic skill most notably.

I can imagine a North Korean “dear leader”, being a trifle distant, dictators don’t schmooze much, Francisco Franco, the Spanish dictator, was famously frosty and aloof, but in democracy, an antisocial politician is a contradiction in terms, like a one-legged tap dancer or a tone deaf violinist.

This tone deafness is extraordinary in any professional politician: even the most modestly endowed of them, down to a town alderman, usually possess an innate ability to connect with people. Even George W. Bush, America’s worst president, was able to take a bullhorn, climb up on a pile of rubble, put his arm around a fireman’s shoulder and be, if only for a moment, an inspiring leader on a personal, human level.

Obama having so little natural talent for human contact, more than once has made me think that there was something “magic“, truly supernatural, about his rise to power. The magic seems to have worn off nowadays, at least internationally, if the following snippets are any sample:

The Democrat, who prefers to spend his evenings with his family or alone in front of his computer, has made it no secret in Washington that he does not want to make new friends. That maxim especially applies to his foreign diplomacy. Unlike his predecessor George W. Bush, Obama is loved by the people of the world, but much less by their heads of government. On the heels of recent revelations that US spy agencies might have monitored Chancellor Merkel’s cell phone, the complaints about Merkel’s “lost friend” Obama are misplaced. Obama doesn’t want to be a friend. During a recent visit by a European head of government to Washington, the atmosphere was described as frosty by those in the entourage from Europe. Obama didn’t find the time for even a little small talk, the sources said, and “it seemed to some like an appointment with a lawyer.”(…) So much non-diplomacy is new among US presidents. Reagan wooed Margaret Thatcher. George H.W. Bush confided in Helmut Kohl as Bill Clinton did in Tony Blair. George W. Bush, who many thought was an isolationist, could count on a whole team of “buddies,” such as the then-prime minister of Spain, José Aznar, and the Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. He even entertained them at his ranch in Texas. Merkel was also invited there, and in return Bush ate a dinner of wild boar in her German electoral district. The chancellor has from time to time said that she values such trans-Atlantic closeness. That is over. “Coolness has its price,” Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl wrote in 2010, adding that Obama appeared to have no genuine friend among world leaders. But what for? He has the NSA.  Der Spiegel

In stark contrast to Mr Obama Merkel has a tendency to under-promise and over-deliver.(…) If the Americans really have been listening in, they might be able to confirm an interesting rumor – that Ms Merkel does not really rate President Obama and considers him to be something of a gasbag. Gideon Rachman – Financial Times

This was all well defined by Obama’s lovely wife Michelle, (the best First Lady I can remember) who described him perfectly when she said, “sometimes I think Barry was raised by wolves“. “politician” and “introvert” are contradictory terms.

Ironically he may go down in history as a good president for what he doesn’t do, like going to war with Syria and Iran… Hillary Clinton would already be at war there if she had been elected president, not to mention either McCain or Romney.

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David Seaton

David Seaton