That Obama Photo

by Richard Brookhiser

The best description of the noli me tangere Obama photo is this:

On his feet he was square shouldered and formal. He bowed to everyone he met and tended to stand with his arms folded across his chest, defining his own private space and warding off intruders.

This is by Joseph Ellis, author of American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson. Of course, there are differences: Jefferson was never an effective public speaker, even erratically; Jefferson had real learning and a great, if limited, prose style. But there are also similarities: two men who are smart, cerebral, aloof, and (I would guess of Obama) shy. They are both a strange combination of pragmatic (not to say shifty) and ideological. Ellis’s quote even encompasses Obama’s bowing — not to everyone, of course, these are less formal times — as a way of keeping people at bay.

Obama’s supporters must hope that he avoids a second term like Jefferson’s.

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