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The ‘Me’ Presidency
Rather than engage with other politicians, Barack Obama prefers to look in the mirror.

(White House via Flickr)

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Michael Barone

Some time ago I contrasted the reaction a conservative would get if he were in the same room with the two most consequential politicians of the 1990s, Bill Clinton and Rudy Giuliani.

If you were in a room with Bill Clinton, he would discover the one issue out of 100 on which you agreed; he would probe you with questions, comments, suggestions; and he would tell you that you enabled him to understand it far better than he ever had before.

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If you were in a room with Rudy Giuliani, he would discover the one issue out of 100 on which you disagreed; he would ask pointed questions and pepper you with objections; he would tell you that you are wrong on the facts and wrong on the law, and that you needed to admit you were utterly mistaken.

The difference is partly a matter of personality and temperament, and of regional style: Southern affability, New York prickliness.

But there’s also an underlying similarity. Both Clinton and Giuliani are always curious about what other people think, determined to probe beneath the surface to understand what they really care about, sensitive to find areas of both agreement and disagreement.

They’re good at reading people, an essential quality for an executive and especially for a president. Recent presidents have had that quality in varying degrees.

Clinton, as indicated, has an immense desire to win people over. Daniel Halper’s bestselling Clinton, Inc., shows how he went about winning the affection and respect of the Bush family.

The two Presidents George Bush, aware that presidents have the greatest leeway in foreign affairs, both devoted immense psychic energy in establishing relationships with foreign leaders.

George W. Bush admits in his memoir Decision Points that he initially misjudged Vladimir Putin. But he established close personal rapport with leaders from wildly different backgrounds, from British prime minister Tony Blair to Brazilian president Lula da Silva.

As for George H. W. Bush, just about everyone now recognizes the brilliance of his diplomacy in response to the invasion of Iraq and the breakup of the Soviet Union. That diplomacy depended on shrewd reading and handling of literally dozens of foreign leaders.

The seemingly aloof Ronald Reagan developed his capacity to understand negotiating partners, as his definitive biographer Lou Cannon made clear, when he was president of the Screen Actors Guild negotiating with studio bosses.

Reagan deployed that ability in establishing productive relations with allies such as British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, with whom he was by no means always in agreement, and with adversaries such as Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whose character, strengths, and weaknesses he shrewdly assessed.

The ability to read other people comes more easily if you’re interested in others, curious to learn what makes them tick. It comes harder or not at all if you’re transfixed with your image of yourself.

Which seems to be the case with Barack Obama. Not only is he not much interested in the details of public policy, as Jay Cost argues persuasively in a recent article for The Weekly Standard. He is also, as even his admirers concede, not much inclined to schmooze with other politicians, even his fellow Democrats.

That goes double for Republicans. House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) is one of the most transparent and least guileful politicians I’ve encountered. The late senator Edward Kennedy and liberal representative George Miller (D., Calif.) had no difficulty reaching agreement with him on the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act.

But Obama has gotten nowhere with him. The president blew up the 2011 grand-bargain negotiations by raising the ante late in the game; later budget agreements were left to Vice President Joe Biden and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.). Obama has taken to explaining Republican opposition as the result of “fever” or mental delusion.

Obama is also known to have frosty relations with most foreign leaders. He used to claim to be close to Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan. That hasn’t prevented Erdogan from sidling up to the Muslim Brotherhood and exhibiting blatant anti-Semitism.

Obama critics have pointed out his fondness for the first person singular. He said “I,” “me,” or “my” 63 times in his 1,631-word eulogy for Hawaii senator Daniel Inouye. He spoke twice as long about his own family experiences as the heroism for which Inouye was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Bill Clinton and Rudy Giuliani succeeded in large part because they were curious about other people different from themselves. Barack Obama prefers to look in the mirror.

— Michael Barone is senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner. © 2014 The Washington Examiner. Distributed by Creators.com


Meme Watch: Obama's Tan Suit
President Obama didn’t have much to say in a Thursday press conference about his strategy (or lack thereof) towards Iraq and Ukraine. But the Twitterverse couldn’t stop talking, and snarking, about his new tan suit. Here’s a look at a fashion meme to get you through a very, very slow August news week.
Obama’s tan ensemble was a departure from his normal presidential black or grey, and the chief executive was barely finished with his remarks — and presumably headed back to the golf course — before Twitter users weighed in. Here’s a look.
The parody account @BarackTanSuit quickly appeared and began commenting on the fashion commentary and popularizing the hashtag #YesWeTan for all things tan. By Friday, @BarackTanSuit issued this ominous challenge: “250 RT’S AND I WILL PETITION THE WHITE HOUSE FOR OBAMA TO WEAR ME EVERYDAY OF THE YEAR!”
“OK now that the suit is off the screen can someone tell us what Obama said” (HuffPost Media, @HuffPostMedia)
“President Obama is wearing a #tansuit this afternoon. That is all.” (Mashable, @mashable)
“He got that suit at Men's White House” (David Wyllie, @journodave)
“BREAKING: Steve Harvey lends President Obama his suit in a pinch.” (Image via Nate Boateng, @nateboateng)
“The Audacity of Taupe” (Jared Keller, @jaredbkeller)
“Something just looks off about the President’s new look, that suit looks like it belongs in a used car lot!” (Image via The Edge Radio, @TheEdgeRadioUSI)
"This is my desert camo suit." (Greg McNeal, @GregoryMcNeal)
“This suit is the boldest thing Obama's done in months. “(Hunter Walker, @hunterw)
“#Obama: ‘What were you guys thinking, sending me out in a tan suit!!!!” (Image via Bakshish, @Bakshish8)
“This is what happens when Obama bypasses Congress to purchase a suit.” (Philip Klein, @philipaklein)
“Imagine if Obama wore a tan suit after Labor Day. That would be grounds for impeachment”. (Garrett Quinn, @GarrettQuinn)
“I don’t care that Obama’s suit is tan. The problem with the suit is that it’s EMPTY.” (Michelle Malkin, @michellemalkin)
“Nothing says to the int’l community that Pres. Obama means business better than a tan suit.” (Image via @mdecambre)
“A Herb Tarlek suit would have been awesome” (Image via Nathan Wurtzel, @NathanWurtzel)
“It’s be cool if Obama announced real action against ISIS. It’d be even more awesome if he took the podium in a robot suit.” (Image via T. Becket Adams, @BecketAdams)
“I have to say, this was a bold fashion choice for the president.” (Image via Michael Deppisch, @deppisch)
“And you may find yourself in a beautiful Oval Office…” (Image via Doktor Zoom, @DoktorZoom)
“#YesYouTan until Labor Day!” (Image via Jennifer Bester, @jbester)
“Look, I have nothing against tan suits” (Image via Jake Tapper, @jaketapper)
“Going for the Obama ‘tan suit’ look at work today. And no, I haven’t got a plan for the Middle East either.” (Image via colin freeman, @colinfreeman99)
“Obama vows to defeat whoever made him wear this suit.” (Josh Barro, @jbarro)
“BREAKING: BARACK #OBAMA IS THE FIRST PRESIDENT TO EVER WEAR A TAN SUIT” (Image via Eric Wolfson, @EricWolfson)
“I see no problem with the suit.” (Image via John Dingell, @john_dingell)
“@VP I got your tan body suit, buddy” (Image via Cuffe, @CuffeyMeh)
“Yes this is @mattyglesias suit please no more suit questions" (Image via darth, @darth)
“#Suitgate sparked by @BarackObama breaking grey and blue rule.” (Image via Nine News Brisbane, @9NewsBrisbane)
“Hillary talked Obama into the tan suit to deflect pantsuit haters’ energy. It’s not the 1st time she’s pulled this” (Image via mjp3md, @mjp3md)
“Wonder what Hillary Clinton thinks of #YesWeTan” (Image via Sam Clench, @SamClench)
“omg wait till you see the suit Obama’s wearing today” (Image via delrayser, @delrayser)
Updated: Sep. 01, 2014

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