When Barack Obama was a student at Harvard Law School, he was never known as a particularly good debater. In class, if he thought that a fellow student had said something foolish, he showed no forensic bloodlust. He did not go out of his way to defeat someone in argument; instead he tried, always with a certain decorous courtesy, to try to persuade, to reframe his interlocutor’s view, to signal his understanding while disagreeing. Obama became president of the law review—the first African-American to do so—but he won as a voice of conciliation.And here are a few quotes:
Laurence Tribe: “Although I would have been happier with a more aggressive debate performance by the President, I’ve had to remind myself that Barack Obama’s instincts and talents have never included going for an opponent’s jugular. That’s just not who he is or ever has been.”This was all a good reminder for me because it gets down to the root of things...this is who President Obama is. To attempt to be any different would mean giving up his authenticity. Pundits and partisans can say "he needs to go for the jugular" all they want. Who knows, occasionally they might even be right about it being a better strategy. But we're dealing with a human being here - and one who knows himself pretty well. I suspect he also knows that trying to be something he's not creates an even bigger problem.
Christopher Edley: “The reason I hate campaigns is that being right on the substance isn’t good enough. That’s why I’m an academic. Of course, Obama knows that, but it’s also a question of what he cares about. I admire him for caring more about the substance than the tactics even if it makes me grimace when I watch him...But if you wanted authenticity you got it [on Wednesday] night. And, really, you got it in an unsurprising way. We know that Obama skews cerebral and that he has never liked debates as a way to engage issues. He has said that many times.”
Will Burns: “The President has always been someone who takes the truth seriously and has a great faith in the American people and their ability to handle big ideas. He doesn’t patronize them. He uses the campaign as an educative process. He wants to win but also wants to be clear about his ideas.”
There are times when I write about this kind of thing that it can sound like a strategy President Obama has crafted rather than him just being who he is. That's why this is a good reminder for me as well. But in the end, most successful people figure out how to use their individual personality styles to their greatest benefit. In other words, they find a way to use what they have. So in that way, seeing it as a strategy that has been developed to maximize his style is a more complete way of understanding President Obama.