President Obama is an introvert. So what?


During the Democratic Convention last month, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) was asked if he had made any suggestions to the White House or President Obama about what he should say in his nomination acceptance speech that night. The Maryland congressman zeroed in on a statement made by First Lady Michelle Obama on behalf of her husband.

Hoyer was taken by her words “When [she] said, ‘Let me tell you about this man I’m married to. Let me tell you about his values, his core, what he believes.” And he was particularly struck by her memorable comment that “being President doesn’t change who you are — no, it reveals who you are.” Hoyer then zoomed in on one of the major criticisms of the president.

“What’s his priority? We talk about [Obama] not working members of Congress so much. One of the reasons he doesn’t work Congress so much is because he’s working his two daughters and his wife. He wants to be home with them at dinner time, not off with some of us. Well, most Americans would say that’s damned smart judgment, right?

Now, [former President Bill] Clinton wants to be with everybody all the time, you know....But golly dang, I gotta think most Americans are thinking, “That’s my kinda person. That’s my kinda dad. That’s my kinda marriage.

I was reminded of this yesterday after reading Susan Cain’s opinion piece “Must great leaders be gregarious?”  in the New York Times. My answer to that question is the same as Cain’s: Of course, not!


President Barack Obama stands with former President Bill Clinton after Clinton's address to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. President Obama caps the convention on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012 (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

“Introverts like people just as much as extroverts do,” Cain wrote, buttressing Hoyer’s point. “They just don’t want to be surrounded by crowds 24/7 and they tend to prefer the company of close friends and colleagues.” Cain later added, “Introverted leaders often possess an innate caution that may be more valuable than we realize.”

Oh, I think we realize it, innately. Folks complained about Obama’s cool reserve until our financial world collapse on Sept. 15, 2008. Suddenly, his cautious nature in the face of economic calamity proved reassuring. The same thing happened last week when four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed in Libya.

As Cain pointed out, Mitt Romney has also been criticized for being too reserved, thus guaranteeing that “we won’t have an extrovert in the White House for at least another four years.” But if Obama wins another term, at least the American people will get an introvert they actually like.

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.

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