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Who Is He?

John McCain’s “Bio Tour” ( and the incidents Abe refers to) got me thinking about all the candidates’ backgrounds and personalities. And it struck me: what do we really know about Barack Obama? I don’t mean that in the creepy, suggestive way that the Clinton team does, seeming to imply some jumbo skeleton in his closet. I mean in the sense of knowing him and his personality the way we do with McCain or Hillary Clinton.

With both Clinton and McCain you could reel off a list of personal characteristics and be able to hazard a guess as to how they would react in a variety of settings, political or otherwise. For Clinton we have a sense of her basic personality – the negative (dishonest, self-righteous, controlling) and the positive (tenacious . . . ok, I’m stuck, but there are others). Similarly with McCain, who has taken to joking about his best known negative quality (temper), we think we “get” who he is. Part of this is a function of their longevity in the public eye and part is that they actually talk about themselves.

Obama’s cool reserve and verbal acuity have benefited him in many ways ( keeping him above the fray in the debates, for example), but also prevented voters from getting to know him. Is he an “A” or “B” personality? Is he gregarious or a loner? Is he quick to anger or does he hold a grudge? We don’t know any of that and he seems disinclined, as we saw in the Wright episode, to talk about himself. (He’d rather tell us all about us.) So we try to get glimpses of him from his wife’s comments (is he arrogant and self-centered too?), from his choice of associates and mentors, or from an incident on the campaign trail( is he not a “people person”?) to put together a picture of who he is. We still don’t know. And that’s remarkable for someone who’s been running for President for over a year.

But, as he said in his own book, he’s a “blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.” Telling us who he really is might muddy the mass exercise in self-projection and thus dim his allure. And if the Newsweek cover story got it right, he might not have a very fixed sense of his own identity. So it may be awhile, if ever, before we learn who he really is. Whatever your political preferences, that’s a bit unnerving.



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