Commentary Magazine


What Exactly Does Obama Like About Being President?

As John’s earlier post points out, there’s a revealing paragraph in today’s New York Times article on Obama’s dismal debate performance:

Mr. Obama does not like debates to begin with, aides have long said, viewing them as media-driven gamesmanship. He did not do all that well in 2008 but benefited from Senator John McCain’s grumpy performances. Mr. Obama made clear to advisers that he was not happy about debating Mr. Romney, whom he views with disdain. It was something to endure, rather than an opportunity, aides said

Notice that it’s Romney himself who Obama reportedly “views with disdain,” not Romney’s policies. Disdain is a harsh word, and in this instance it’s very personal. What exactly has Romney done to inspire such feelings in Obama? Clearly Romney does not feel the same way about his opponent (or is much better at hiding it).

According to the Times, Obama also deeply dislikes debates. It might be understandable if this was because he found them challenging and outside of his comfort zone. But that’s not what the Times reports. Obama apparently dislikes debates because he views them as “media-driven gamesmanship… something to endure, rather than an opportunity.” In other words, debates are below him. It’s not that he’s a weak debater, it’s that the debate format is too trivial for the likes of Barack Obama

This isn’t the first major aspect of the presidency (and campaigns) that Obama reportedly disdains. George W. Bush wasn’t a fantastic debater, but he was considered a great communicator in person. Obama, in contrast, doesn’t appear to enjoy personal interaction in general. He knocks debates as “gamesmanship,” but he also doesn’t like socializing. And as the New Yorker reported, he’s alienated major donors because he hasn’t been able to build relationships with them.

Obama’s interpersonal struggles have also caused him problems in the policy realm. He dislikes working with members of congress, and his disengagement from the legislative side of the political process has been criticized routinely by both Republicans and Democrats. The same goes for foreign policy. The New York Times reported that Obama’s difficulty dealing with the Arab Spring has stemmed from his “impatience with old-fashioned back-room diplomacy” and “failure to build close personal relationships with foreign leaders.”

According to Game Change author John Heilemann, Obama is one of those rare politicians who “don’t like people…[and] don’t like politics.”

If that’s the case, why is he running for reelection? The first time around, Obama could at least claim he was making the sacrifice because the country needed his brilliant leadership and phenomenal gifts so badly. But after four years, that’s far less believable. Honestly, it’s perplexing. Does Obama really want to be president, and if so, why?