Calm, cool, and…collectivist?: How Obama’s moderate personality belies his radical politics

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
Font Size:

For years, researchers have suggested that our personalities are locked in by the time we hit preschool. Maybe it’s time for political observers start taking note. We always hope politicians will “grow” in office, but in hindsight, their most destructive tendencies were almost always baked in the cake all along — deeply embedded in their most fundamental beliefs and self-image.

Let’s take President Obama, for example. There seem to be two constants in his life that should have been obvious all along: He is temperamentally calm and ideologically radical. If you’re a liberal, this is a great advantage. The obvious problem for Republicans, of course, is that the former (a gut feeling about his moderation and likability) overwhelms the latter (a matter of record).

This is convenient, but it isn’t fake. In terms of his calm demeanor, nothing — not even the disastrous launch of his landmark legislation — has visibly rattled the man. The “No Drama, Obama” moniker wasn’t just a line — it was utterly consistent with his M.O.

At the 1976 Republican convention, when asked by an old Reaganite what his “demeanor” should be when approaching delegates, Reagan aide Lyn Nofziger famously quipped: “Da meaner da better.” In that regard, Obama’s team seems to believe “da calmer da better.” It is doubtful this comes as naturally to the team as it does to the principal, but it has worked almost as successfully. By feigning calmness, Team Obama has too often managed to persuade us that we are the ones who are overreacting.

One could certainly argue that Obama’s insouciance finally caught up with him. If his blasé attitude didn’t help create the website debacle, it certainly contributed to the fallout. But it hardly matters. Despite his recent failings, Obama did manage to win two elections, shift the balance of the federal courts, and pass ObamaCare.

Along the way, his temperamentally moderate persona helped belie his radical politics.

This is true, despite the fact that anyone paying attention should have known all along how he would govern. His support of “redistributive justice” is arguably the most obvious and pernicious example.

He talked about it in a 2001 interview. He alluded to it when he talked to Joe the Plumber about spreading the wealth around. And he implemented it as president (always framed under the guise of the rich paying their fair share.)

Well, it might be cold comfort for conservatives, but — thanks to ObamaCare — his cover is finally blown. Writing in the New York Times this Sunday, John Harwood observes:

“[F]or those nervous about potential changes, the president promised stability. ‘If you like your current insurance, you will keep your current insurance,’ Mr. Obama said the day he signed the legislation in March 2010, a promise he made repeatedly as the Oct. 1 opening day of the online health insurance marketplaces approached.


“Hiding in plain sight behind that pledge — visible to health policy experts but not the general public — was the redistribution required to extend health coverage to those who had been either locked out or priced out of the market.


“Now some of that redistribution has come clearly into view.”

This, of course, was always the plan. ObamaCare was always meant to be a win/lose, not a win/win. The urge to redistribute is deeply embedded in President Obama’s psyche — possibly for as long as he can remember.

Matt K. Lewis