Obama’s arrogance problem

I’ve had people — who are not Clinton supporters — tell me that they find Barack Obama arrogant. I can definitely see where they’re coming from, at least at certain times (“You’re likable enough, Hillary,” the way he drinks in the adulation of the big crowds, the way he doesn’t always look at other people while they are talking, etc.). According to John Heilemann at New York Magazine, it might have cost him the John Edwards endorsement too:

In the days after John Edwards’s withdrawal from the Democratic race, the political world expected his endorsement of Barack Obama would be forthcoming tout de suite. The neo-populist and the hopemonger had spent months tag-teaming Hillary Clinton, pillorying her as a creature of the status quo, not a champion of the kind of “big change” they both deem essential. So appalled was Edwards at Clinton’s gaudy corporatism—her defense of the role of lobbyists, her suckling at the teats of the pharmaceutical and defense industries—that he’d essentially called her corrupt. And then, not least, there were the sentiments of his wife. “Elizabeth hasn’t always been crazy about Mrs. Clinton” is how an Edwards insider puts it; a less delicate member of HRC’s circle says, “Elizabeth hates her guts.”

But now two months have passed since Edwards dropped out—tempus fugit!—and still no endorsement. Why? According to a Democratic strategist unaligned with any campaign but with knowledge of the situation gleaned from all three camps, the answer is simple: Obama blew it. Speaking to Edwards on the day he exited the race, Obama came across as glib and aloof. His response to Edwards’s imprecations that he make poverty a central part of his agenda was shallow, perfunctory, pat. Clinton, by contrast, engaged Edwards in a lengthy policy discussion. Her affect was solicitous and respectful. When Clinton met Edwards face-to-face in North Carolina ten days later, her approach continued to impress; she even made headway with Elizabeth. Whereas in his Edwards sit-down, Obama dug himself in deeper, getting into a fight with Elizabeth about health care, insisting that his plan is universal (a position she considers a crock), high-handedly criticizing Clinton’s plan (and by extension Edwards’s) for its insurance mandate.

I was never too much of an Edwards fan myself, so I don’t personally care if Obama kisses his ass or not, but Obama really should have known better. I’m sure Clinton was just pandering, but at least she knew to do it. What could Obama have been thinking? That he won and Edwards lost, so he didn’t owe Edwards any respect, and Edwards wouldn’t possibly consider endorsing Clinton after she smeared him in South Carolina? Who knows, but it seems like a pretty big mistake. A well-timed Edwards endorsement and some surrogate stumping might potentially have swung Ohio to Obama, no?

There’s a fine line between being arrogant and being “presidential.” I hope Obama manages to stay on the right side of that line as time goes on. Obama seems to be a very nimble and quick-learning candidate, but I hope he’s aware that this is a potential problem. (If it really did cost him the Edwards endorsement, then I’m sure he is.)


3 responses to “Obama’s arrogance problem

  1. Running for president requires a pretty healthy dose of self-confidence. It takes a certain amount of arrogance to believe you are the best person to be the leader of the free world. All of the candidates have pretty healthy egos. And Obama has acknowledged that he sometimes gets cocky and lets the crowds get to his head, but is grateful that he has his wife to knock him down a few pegs when he starts to believe the hype about himself. At least he’s honest about it!

  2. I agree with all that, but if a significant number of voters are getting rubbed the wrong way by sensing arrogance in him, then it’s still a problem. I think he’s an extremely likable and charming candidate, but occasionally his demeanor becomes much less appealing, and I’m just hoping he is able to keep those occasions to a minimum. Especially when he’s dealing with people like Edwards whose support he is supposed to be avidly pursuing.

  3. deep american voice

    Yes, it’s a problem with your exterior, not your interior, except insofar as the interior shows up on the exterior. Who knows what politicians are feeling; what we should care about is how they act, and from this report (I’ve only seen that one report; were there more?) it sounds like Obama handled himself poorly in dealing with the Edwardses. Best hopes for his learning from his mistakes.

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