Commentary Magazine


Are You Likable Enough, Barack?

President Elect Obama’s first press conference was distinguished by an amazingly off-putting and frankly cruel comment about former First Lady Nancy Reagan. His staff must have realized as much and released a statement later:

“President-elect Barack Obama called Nancy Reagan today to apologize for the careless and off-handed remark he made during today’s press conference. The President-elect expressed his admiration and affection for Mrs. Reagan that so many Americans share and they had a warm conversation.”

I am reminded by another ill-advised, unkind comment in the New Hampshire debate when he remarked to Hillary Clinton: “You’re likable enough, Hillary.” Another smark-alecky jab. And who could forget his entirely dispassionate and steely cold declaration that his illegally residing aunt (who is among his unassisted relatives) would be getting no special breaks from him?

Some candidates and  presidents are clearly softies, Ronald Reagan for one. Some are irrepresibly jovial. Think Hubert Humphrey. Still others in their private moments are know for uncommon grace and consideration. Michael Gerson attests to George W. Bush’s qualities on this score. So what is Barack Obama? Is he so cool as to be uncaring and unkind in personal dealings and unguarded moments? Is he as humorless and joyless as his public demeanor would sometimes suggest? We don’t really know, given the lack of careful scrutiny during the campaign.

So far our next President hasn’t shown a excess of personal warmth in his brief time on the national stage. It is not perhaps the worst characteristic for a president to have, but it is not the best either. It is enough to make you miss a president who feels your pain.