In an interview on the stylistic differences between President Obama and former president Bill Clinton, author and political pundit John Heilemann declared that Obama “doesn’t like people.”
“He’s an introvert … he’s not someone who has a wide circle of friends,” Heilemann said. “He’s a more or less solitary figure who has extraordinary communicative capacities.”
However, Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” and a former corporate lawyer and negotiations consultant, told the Daily Caller Thursday that Heilemann’s view is a misconception of what it means to be an introvert.
Though Cain rejects the premise that introverts “don’t like people,” she concedes that Clinton is an extrovert and Obama is an introvert—but she insists it doesn’t mean he dislikes people.
“[Clinton] is the type of person who visibly comes alive and energized with crowds of people, and Obama really is not like that at all,” Cain said. “He by all accounts is somebody who prefers the company of people he knows well. You get the sense from him that he truly cares about people… but he doesn’t try to work the cocktail party.”
Others, including “Moneyball” author Michael Lewis, have also objected to Heilemann’s characterization of Obama.
According to Cain, introversion is about how people respond to social stimulation. Introverts crave a low-key environment while extroverts thrive off of high energy situations. “There is zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas,” Cain said.
However, Obama isn’t the only one in the spotlight here. According to Cain, we actually have two introverts running against each other for the presidency—Obama and Romney.
This rings true. As Vanity Fair recently noted,
If Romney is exceedingly comfortable around family and close friends, he’s much less so around those he doesn’t know well, drawing a boundary that’s difficult to traverse. It’s a strict social order—us and them—that has put co-workers, political aides, casual acquaintances, and others in his professional circles, even people who have worked with or known him for years, outside the bubble.
Cain argues that, although being with big crowds is a part of being the president, introverts often avoid scandals or catastrophes because of their cautious, think-before-you-speak personalities. For example, she says the same quality that makes Bill Clinton so wonderful at fundraisers and convention halls may also be the same quality that got him into the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
“You can’t imagine Obama in a million years getting into a mess like that,” Cain said. “A person who has that more cautious, more reserved temperament is much less likely to get the country into that [position] in the first place.”
Meanwhile, one wonders to what extent the campaign has been shaped by virtue of having two generally cautious, and sometimes secretive, introverts run against each other. It’s probably no surprise that pundits would long for a Clintonesque extrovert to cover.
–Annie Z. Yu contributed to this post.