I Am Delighted We Have an Introvert in the White House

President Obama sits alone on the patio outside the Oval Office, following a meeting with his senior advisors.<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/whitehouse/5640486609/">Pete Souza</a>/Flickr

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I don’t quite know why this Kelly Candaele interview with John Heilemann is suddenly making the rounds today, but it is. Here’s the bit about Obama the introvert:

JH: Obama is an unusual politician. There are very few people in American politics who achieve something—not to mention the Presidency—in which the following two conditions are true: one, they don’t like people. And two, they don’t like politics.

KC: Obama doesn’t like people?

JH: I don’t think he doesn’t like people. I know he doesn’t like people. He’s not an extrovert; he’s an introvert. I’ve known the guy since 1988. He’s not someone who has a wide circle of friends. He’s not a backslapper and he’s not an arm-twister. He’s a more or less solitary figure who has extraordinary communicative capacities. He’s incredibly intelligent, but he’s not a guy who’s ever had a Bill Clinton-like network around him. He’s not the guy up late at night working the speed dial calling mayors, calling governors, calling CEOs. People say about Obama that it’s a mistake that he hasn’t reached out more to Republicans on Capitol Hill. I say that may be a mistake, but he also hasn’t reached out to Democrats on Capitol Hill. If you walk around [the convention] and button-hole any Democratic Senator you find on the street and ask them how many times they have received a call [from the President] to talk about politics, to talk about legislative strategy, I guarantee you won’t find a lot of people who have gotten one phone call in the last two and a half years. And many of them have never been called.

You know what? I don’t really like people either. This probably explains why I like Obama.

What’s more, I think this is a perfectly fine trait in a president. I get that schmoozing is part of the job, and I also get that most politicians are insufferable egotists who get bent out of shape whenever someone doesn’t pay sufficient attention to them. That’s probably why most of them get along so well with the Wall Street crowd: They’re birds of a feather.

But honestly, I’ve seen very little evidence that schmoozing really helps presidents get more accomplished. All those extroverted politicians will tell you differently, of course, but they’re just talking their book. They like schmoozing—better known to most of us as BSing or goofing off—so they spend lots of time making up stories about how important it is. But you should take this for what it is: the special pleading of a bunch of permanent adolescents trying to convince us that drinking and gabbing are essential parts of running the country.

I’ve read enough about Obama’s personal style to believe that he should probably have a wider range of advisers and should spend a little more time on traditional political sucking up. Generally speaking, though, I’m delighted that we have a president who’s fundamentally more interested in actual work than he is in yakking on the phone with whichever senators need to be stroked that day. After all, introverted or not, Obama has somehow gotten a lot more accomplished than either Bush or Clinton ever did.

In fact, I think we should have a national introverts day. Unfortunately, none of us will ever do the schmoozing required to get one.


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