Perhaps the biggest, most persistent and successful lie about Barack Obama is that he’s a nice guy who cares.
But the last place one expects to hear this myth eviscerated is the New York Times.
Mr. Obama’s strained association with [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, who has clashed with other American presidents as well, has been difficult from the start. But the absence of any real connection between them underscores the rule, not the exception, for Mr. Obama, who has only occasionally invested time in cultivating foreign leaders.
Even his opponent in the last presidential race bought into the lie, choosing to label Obama as nice, but incompetent. Mitt Romney apparently convinced many. Among voters who most valued a candidate who “cares about people like me,” 8-in-10 picked Obama in 2012. Majorities of people who prioritized a candidate who “shares my values,” “is a strong leader,” or “has a vision for the future” all voted for Romney.
If there’s one area of the president’s job where being a “nice guy who cares” matters most, and holds the greatest consequences for failure, it’s international diplomacy. Building trusting relationships with allies requires personal engagement, concern about the needs of others, and genuine warmth. The mythical Obama that we were sold embodies all of these qualities.
But the Times admits that President Obama’s foreign relations display a distinct lack of actual relationships.
It is a cool, businesslike approach, similar to the way Mr. Obama deals with members of Congress, donors and activists at home. But historians and some of the president’s former foreign policy advisers say the distance the president keeps from foreign leaders leaves him without the durable relationships that previous presidents forged to help smooth disagreements and secure reluctant cooperation.
I’ve long argued that Obama’s preeminent personality characteristic is aloofness — a seeming ignorance of social cues, a self-absorption that blinds him to the needs of those who, in his mind, orbit him like the planets the sun. This is why we hear few stories from longtime friends about his warmth and generosity — as we did from many who know Mitt Romney, for example. It’s why Obama seeks fleeting, flattering encounters with celebrities that give him the patina of popularity without the grind of emotional investment.
Politics is, above all, a people business, but Obama has been insulated from the devastating effects of his cold, self-centered nature, by a cluster of handlers from Axelrod, to Plouffe, to Messina to Jarrett, who have manufactured — out of little more than a diamond smile — the perception of a winning personality for an anti-social auto-pariah.
Other world leaders don’t buy the Obama sham, and so, even Obama’s flatterers struggle to find a single nation where his “smart diplomacy” wins friends and influences people. Even when he tries to connect, he can’t pull it off.
Mr. Obama’s own efforts to get closer to prime ministers and his fellow presidents have ended with largely disappointing results.
American foreign policy doesn’t require a president to have pajama parties where he paints the toenails and braids the hair of foreign leaders, but all successful relationships and negotiations require one quality of which Obama seems utterly bereft; empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
It’s good see the New York Times waking up to our president’s besetting character flaw — he doesn’t really give a damn about anyone but himself.