The other day I was watching an in-depth personal profile of Scott Brown by Fox’s Greta Van Susteren. It featured interviews with the newly-elected senator’s friends, neighbors, former colleagues in the state senate, ex-coaches, and even the guy who fixes Brown’s truck.
They all seemed to genuinely love the guy (the car mechanic also verified the authenticity and antiquity of the famous vehicle). Person after person spoke warmly and even joyously of Brown’s depth of character (in many cases, going back to his high school days): his work ethic, his integrity, his drive, his intelligence and affability, and his just-folks quality despite all this. The consensus was: what you see is what you get, and it’s all good.
It struck me that, less than a week after the Brown election, we’ve already heard more good things from friends of the previously-unknown Brown than we’ve heard about Obama from his friends in the more than two years he’s been in the spotlight. In fact, if it weren’t for Obama’s shady friends—the ones he suddenly wasn’t all that friendly with, or whose dirty deeds he hadn’t really known that much about after all, such as Ayers, Rezko, and Wright—we’d think him nearly friendless.
He’s not; if one searches hard enough, friends such as this man can be found. He seems a relatively recent acquaintance, however. Perhaps the paucity of articles about old friends can be explained by looking at this early one, featuring interviews with some college roommates and former classmates of Obama’s.
It doesn’t present a glowing picture—and remember, these are Obama’s friends speaking:
The young man [Obama's Occidental friend] Mifflin remembers was “an unpretentious, down to earth, solidly middle-class guy who seemed somewhat more sophisticated than the average college student. He was slightly reserved and deliberate in a way that I sometimes thought betrayed an uncertainty.”
But another former Occidental classmate, Robert McCrary, now general manager of a contract sewing company, saw him differently: “He definitely had a cocky, sometimes arrogant way about him. … He was not open to others.”
A roommate from Obama’s Columbia years, a Pakastani named Siddiqi (who was not a Columbia student), adds:
[Obama would] give me lectures, which I found very boring. He must have found me very irritating.”
Siddiqi offered the most expansive account of Obama as a young man.
“We were both very lost. We were both alienated, although he might not put it that way. He arrived disheveled and without a place to stay,”….
And then there’s Andrew Roth, whoever he is:
Andrew Roth knew Obama at Occidental and in New York. He speaks bluntly: “The thought, believe me, never crossed my mind that he would be our first black president.”
I’m not just cherry-picking quotes; even the more positive ones tend to indicate that Obama had an oddly detached and off-putting air. In other words, there is very little warmth or exuberance expressed, even from friends. Obama seems to have been admired for his intellect, but the human notes are discordant. Something was missing.
Why am I beating this tired and perhaps dead horse? For me, the impetus was the powerful contrast between Obama’s friends and acquaintances and Brown’s. The latter demonstrated an abundance of the exact qualities Obama’s friends’ descriptions lacked: a deep and abiding human connection.
Before this, I’m not sure I would have thought this especially important in a president. But in Obama’s case, it takes on even greater significance in retrospect. Before the election, we focused on the number of his dubious connections—the Ayers/ Rezko/Wright triumvirate. Now, one year into his term, and more familiar with his coldness and distance from the concerns of his fellow Americans, we start to see at least as much significance in what’s missing from his more ordinary relationships.