DOWD: Obama, Romney in a contest of introverts

  • Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Isn't it amazing? Two introverts facing off in the brightest spotlight of all for president.

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are at their most appealing when they are with their families. Unfortunately, we don't often get that vantage point. And beyond those circles of trust, both men can seem as if they are sealed in their own spaceships.

The big difference, the one that will probably decide this presidential race, is this: Obama is able to convey an impression of likability to voters. Given how private he is, an enigma even to some who are close to him, it's an incredible performance.

That likability slips through your hands at closer range. The president survived a "raised by wolves" upbringing, as Michelle has called it. He retained the monastic skills that sustained him through the solitude of his years in New York. His "winning smile," as Jonathan Alter wrote in "The Promise," "obscured a layer of self-protective ice."His staffers respect him, but he doesn't inspire the kind of adoration that the Bush presidents got. And the pillow-plumping romance with the press is over.

The New York Times' Amy Chozick wrote that the president "has come to believe the news media have had a role in frustrating his ambitions to change the terms of the country's political discussion."

He can be thin-skinned and insecure at times, but he radiates self-sufficiency, such a clean, simple aesthetic that he could have been designed by Steve Jobs — Siri without the warmth.

(A poll by Purple Strategies asked which candidate seemed more like Apple, and it was, naturally, Obama.)

Yet voters see something genuine, and that is why Obama seems to be surviving the stalled economy and his own chuckleheaded remark: "If you've got a business — you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."

A recent USA Today/Gallup poll showed Romney with higher marks on fixing the deficit, jobs, taxes and the economy. But Obama soared on personal traits — maintaining a 30-point advantage in likability, and better numbers on honesty, trust and empathy.

When John Glenn was running for president, the former astronaut elicited greater applause when he came onstage than when he left. Romney started out off-putting and now makes Willy Loman look like prom king. Obama is introverted and graceful; Romney is introverted and awkward.

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