In the recent discussions of President Obama’s “likeability,” one significant moment seems to have been omitted. (My apologies if it appeared on the Corner and I missed it.) It occurred in the 2008 campaign when Hillary Clinton was being berated for her UNlikeability. During a New Hampshire debate, Senator Clinton was asked about that and in reply joked that the question hurt her feelings but that she would “try to go on.” Game girl.
When the audience laughed along with her, Mrs. Clinton, looking across to then-senator Obama, said: “he’s very likeable — I agree with that.” Her response — which was more or less on the theme of “why can’t we just all get along” — ended on a slightly ingratiating but pardonable note: “I don’t think I’m that bad.”
An ABC News reporter described Obama’s rejoinder as follows: “Obama barely looked up from his notes. “You’re likable enough, Hillary,” he said.
Well, you can watch the scene and make your own judgment. But Obama’s response seems an icy one to me, not even slightly kissy-huggy. He might almost be a Republican.
That may be significant if there are any more instances from him of coolness under appeal. Many years ago Richard Nixon, discussing another election then on the way and predicting a poor future for Senator Gary Hart (oh, for goodness sake, look him up), said: “Hart’s problem is that he’s a cold fish. That wouldn’t matter if he were a Republican; the voters expect Republicans to be cold fish. It’s the basis of our appeal — we’re seen as accountants able to put things right. But they like a Democrat to be a warm, fuzzy man of the people. Hart dispenses a chill.”
We don’t know if Nixon was right about Hart; the senator fell for different reasons and never got to be tested. And Obama has let his iciness show only once in the last four years — twice if we count his setting up of Congressman Ryan to be berated. This suggests that he is either genuinely likeable or very self-controlled. But if likeability is currently a main basis of the president’s overall appeal, then we should watch carefully for any more signs of the Inner Spock breaking out.