Anyone can come off as a nice person on camera. All you need is some patience and foundation. But can you fake being a nice person in real life?
This piece is based on a Quora Question. Link on the last page.
1. Everyone that I’ve met that has spent time with him says he’s a pretty good guy. Easy to be around. Most politicians are likable, not all but most. That’s for many a prerequisite for the job. Some folks like Anthony Weiner or Mitch McConnell aren’t but they’re the exception.
I’ve had some friends and worked with people that have known the President since the early 2000’s when I went to grad school in Illinois and volunteered as a Democratic Precinct Chair. Most people would just offer that he was smart and pleasant to be around. He had a couple idiosyncrasies though (story continued on the next page…).
In the absence of any kind of quirks mentioned I get the sense that he was a good listener. I say this because most people that are good listeners don’t have a lot of criticism thrown around about them. Given how normal it is when you get with a bunch of political staffers and campaign operatives to scrutinize these things it is telling that people didn’t nitpick.
I do remember a lot of the data people and policy wonks saying he would “get” concepts easily and ask questions that reflected an ownership of that knowledge. I don’t even remember other staffers that I know that knew him on the senate or first presidential campaign talking about having a smoke with him. To me that speaks to discipline as well.
I don’t know if that gets at what exactly you wanted but I hope it informs you and assuages at least some of your curiosity.
Jason G. Hitzert
2. I have never met the President, but I know someone who has. This person is what would be mildly described as a raving and drooling Conservative, who always called him Obummer, Odumba, or B. Hussein Soetro.
Due to a connection in his family, he was invited as a guest on a boat that the President and First Lady were also on. He couldnt wait to meet him and confirm what a scumbag he was. (story continued on the next page…)
However, after he returned, he changed his tune big time, saying while he disagreed with the politics, that the Obamas were some of the nicest people hed ever met, and when he told his conservative circle of friends this, they basically blackballed him for being a traitor to the cause.
He proudly displayed the signed pictures of him and his daughter with the Obamas and wouldnt let anyone talk bad about them in his presence again. Now that is either Devil Magic or a truly genuine nature that he encountered.
3. I sat next to Barack Obama on a plane headed from DC to Chicago in 2004. It was a late Thursday afternoon, and Congress was headed home for their usual 4-day work from home weekends.
We were both desperately late for the last flight out, and running down to the gateway where we hoped they would hold the plane. Since we were so late, the gate attendant told us to just grab any open seats in the last 2 rows. He outsprinted me, but still waited like a gentleman inside the plane and offered me my choice of remaining seats in the last row (story continued on the next page…).
I was floored. We exchanged pleasantries, and he proceeded to bury himself reading for the remainder of the flight. When it came time to deplane, he again stood up, asked me which was my bag so he could help retrieve it from the overhead bin, and proceeded to place it in the aisle for me. I think that more than qualifies him as a nice guy in real life!
4. I’ve met Barack Obama on three occasions at political events. Each time I only had 30-45 seconds to chat with him but seemed very personable and had that politician’s skill of making you feel like the most important person in the world while you have his attention. He is very “in the moment” when he’s with you.
One of my meetings does stand out, though. My mother generally voted Republican up until 2007 when she became a huge fan of Barack Obama’s. In 2010, I was invited to meet him prior to the mid-term elections and I was able to bring my 82-year-old mom with me (story continued on the next page…).
She kept saying how she had seen so many things in her life – the Great Depression, WWII, the civil rights battles – and now the first Black President. I took her aside and said, “when he comes in, we’re only going to have a few moments with him so be cool. Don’t embarrass me.” She assured me she wouldn’t.
A little while later the door opened, Secret Service staff came into the room with other handlers, and Obama walked in and started greeting people. We all stood in stiff attention as he went from person to person shaking hands and chatting briefly, as is the usual protocol. He got to my mother and reached for her hand but she latched onto his first! She started the same speech about having lived through Depression, WWII, seen so much, etc.
Obama listened intently and kept nodding his head and commenting. My mother wouldn’t let go and talked about how much he meant to her and how great the country had been when she was growing up, and he assured her that it was still great and would be even greater in the future. She paused and said, “Can I have a hug?” He said, “Of course!” and bent down and gave her a long, tight squeeze while I took photos. His kindness made a mockery of my fussy concern over my embarrassment.
I have trouble believing Obama ever made anyone as happy as he made my mother that evening. She tells that story to anyone who will listen and has the photos of her hug on her phone so she can look at them any time she wants. The election a few days later was a disaster for the Democrats, and Obama’s visit in Ohio certainly did nothing to help at the polls. But he carried the night in my family.
5. When he was running for Senate here in Illinois back in 2004, I was at Chicago’s Union Station to take a train out to work. It was about 6 am. Candidate Obama was by himself, no entourage, shaking hands and chatting with commuters.
I shook his hand and he asked me what I was doing, where I worked, etc. He was genuinely interested in what I had to say. I spoke to him about healthcare (I was freelancing at the time and had very poor coverage) and he offered some thoughts and smart discussion, rather than “I’m going to fix it all.”
I liked him immediately and felt he had a certain presence. I do remember thinking he would go far… I just didn’t realize how far, how fast.
6. When my wife worked briefly on the Hill as a committee staffer, she related the following encounter. The staff had been working late when she emerged from the Capitol building. She turned to see then-fledgling candidate/Senator Obama on the steps, as well (story continued on the next page…).
He turned to her, nodded, and cheerfully asked – “So how was your day?” She stammered that it had been long, but okay. “Well, good!” he said. His car rolled up. “See you later!” And he went down the steps and got in to his car.
I might have gotten some details wrong – but her overall impression was that he was a great guy – very engaging, very charismatic, just making pleasant small talk. She said she had heard stories of how Bill Clinton made everyone in a room feel like he knew them personally and was interested in them, and she said that was the same here.
7. When I lived in Chicago I would often see Barak Obama at the East Bank Club where he played basketball and worked out.
He was Senator then and, except for being really good at basketball, he did nothing to draw attention to himself, including absolutely no entourage. He was just a guy having great competitive fun and staying healthy.
8. My son Dusty, and our whole family, met the President in the Oval Office in 2011 as part of the Make A Wish foundation. As we entered, Hillary Clinton was leaving. He had also had a tough meeting with House Republicans earlier in the day.
What a great guy. He was so welcoming and comfortable. The way he interacted with my severely disabled son was a window into a good soul. We spent 20 minutes with him and he was full of questions and made Dusty feel like he was the important one in the room. Yes, he is a nice person.
For more detail on Dusty: dustystrail.com.
To help with treatments for Duchenne muscular dystrophy coalitionduchenne.org
9. President Obama maintains a policy that every White House staffer, no matter how low they rank, gets a farewell meeting with the president in the Oval when they leave the WH staff.
The staffers submit a briefing sheet in advance that provides the president with some background. Most bring their families, and the president spends 10 minutes asking about their impressions of the White House and their plans for the future. I attended one of those events when my son left his WH job. (story continued on the next page…)
We were the last of about a dozen such groups, late on a Friday afternoon of a very difficult week for the president. He looked exhausted, and he still had an event to attend afterward.
But he could not have been more gracious, and expressed genuine interest in my son and each of us. He reinforced all of my prior impressions that he is a good, decent, funny and humble man, who very much appreciates the sacrifices of those who work long and hard to serve him and the nation.
We are extremely lucky to have had him as our President. I expect he will be Jimmy Carters equal as a dedicated servant of America and the people of the world when he leaves office.
10. I met Barrie and his mom Anne when he took her to Quebec City for Mother’s Day in 1992 (or 1991). He walked into the welcome building next to the Basilica. It was a stand-alone office back then. He asked about the building and museum, we chatted for 3 minutes, he signed my Museum guestbook and was on his way.
He really left an impression so I recognized him right away the next time I saw him (story continued on the next page…).
He was impressive enough so that, in 2008, I instantly recognized him during the Town Hall meeting debate with Sen. John McCain. He does something interesting where he will smile when you ask him something, continue to write, and then look at you with an answer.
There is really nothing much to say about Obama when you are a nobody and you get to meet him in private, he is exactly as nice as he is when the cameras are on him.
11. During my tenure with the U.S. Secret Service, I was part of (then) Senator Barack Obama’s protection detail from March 2007 until November 2008, on his election night. Sen. Obama was given protection unusually early due to the volume of threats that he was receiving (story continued on the next page…).
I made it a point to remain unbiased in my political opinions when asked about Mr. Obama while on this assignment. I also tend to judge others by how they treat me rather than how they expect to be treated. I will say that, personally, I have differed on many of President Obama’s stances in politics. I do not support much of his political agenda.
With that stated… Senator Obama, Mrs. Obama and their two daughters were always extremely cordial and appreciative for everything that we provided them. They were engaging with us, asking us about our families and making sure that we were provided for.
On numerous occasions, Mr. Obama would ask me how my wife was doing (she was pregnant with our first child), and wished her the best. I never, never saw him belittle another person, I never witnessed him do anything behind his wife’s back… For all of my political differences with Barack Obama, I will be the first to say that he is a very decent man.
12. I was 10 years old when Barack Obama took office. I lived in DC so I remember going with my friend whose mother was a reporter to the inauguration.
Later that year, in June, I was going to my baseball practice, running through the bleachers of the soccer field at Palisades park, when I tripped over the foot of a man watching his daughter play soccer. The man helped me up knelt down on his knee and asked if I was okay. That was when I got a good look at him (story continued on the next page…).
I had just scuffed the shoe of the leader of the free world. I told him that I had gotten my parents to vote for him (I did) and that I had a change poster hanging in my bedroom at home (also true).
Not knowing what else to do, the 10-year-old boy that I was gave him an awkward salute and started to run off, but he called after me and threw me my glove that I had dropped. In my excitement and nervousness, I thought I was going to get arrested for a moment after I realized who it was.
13. I got to meet him and his family in 2006/07 when he was starting to run for office. His campaign threw an ice cream smorgasbord in my hometown and did a meet and greet. I have honestly never met a nicer and more attentive politician. He shook ever hand and had in depth conversations with everyone that tried. I was 18 at the time and in my freshmen year of college. I asked him how he would help college students and we had a good 5-7 minute conversation about his goals for student loans and what my needs were as a student. The first lady was also very kind and their kids were having fun running around having ice cream with other kids (story continued on the next page…).
I can’t say I’ve been happy with everything he’s done in office but that meeting left a strong impression on me. He was just as willing to have a long talk with a punk teenager as with wealthy business owners and didn’t condescend to me at all. Maybe not the most exciting story, but compared to other candidates and elected officials I’ve met he stands out as the most pleasant and engaged with his audience.
14. I work in UChicago IT fixing computers, so I’ve met many people that have worked both with him and had him as a professor.
From what I’ve heard he was an excellent professor, very well versed on constitutional law, and (like all professors at Chicago), extremely demanding. The amount of writing people do at the law school can be insane, and Constitutional Law is considered the most prestigious class. Getting appointed a professor at a law school is both really hard and really political, so you have to do good work. I had one person that I was helping that complained that he seemed a little preoccupied with his politics at times, occasionally not responding to students that frequently, but he still said he was a good professor.
15. I think the most interesting thing you’ll find most people say when they meet the President (Obama) is how he is exactly the same both on and off camera. So would find him to be exactly how you expect. He is very calm, very thoughtful, very curious. His sense of humor may be a point or two more barbed in person, but President Obama is very much the person you’ve seen speak on TV many times.
16. I’ll start by saying that I disagree with much of what Obama has done as President.
I can’t talk about the president, but I can speak about the 22-year-old Barack Obama. We worked in the same little company and I was his editor.
He wrote a few articles on interest rate swaps for my newsletter, the Business International Money Report, which was aimed at treasurers and CFOs of multinational corporations. It was Barack’s first job out of Columbia, and he wrote about it (in not particularly flattering terms) in Dreams of My Father.
Barack was quiet, thoughtful and kind. He treated everyone respectfully, regardless of their age, position or seniority (story continued on the next page…).
There was heavy partying going on at that little company, but Barack actually left at the end of the day and didn’t socialize with his co-workers outside of the office. He was polite, helpful, and had zero attitude.
I don’t think he found the work particularly engaging, but he didn’t complain about it. I liked him. I think everyone did.
17. I met the now President Obama during John Kerry’s DNC convention at the FleetCenter (TD Garden) in 2004. I found him to be an extremely intelligent man with both charisma and drive.
He impressed me with his vision and optimistic view of our future. Because of this, I said to co-workers that he would have my vote right then and there if this convention was in support of his White House bid.
Years later, I kept my word and invested my support via voting for him to take the top seat. I have not always agreed with every decision he’s made, but that does not lessen my initial opinion of him.
18. I was at dinner last night with my friend and his family. My friend’s father is a Supreme Court judge and shared a class at Harvard with Obama. What he told me was that Barack would wait until everyone else had had a chance to speak and then he would deliver a considered yet elaborate synthesis or opinion on the matter discussed. Even in a class of genius’ he was able to distinguish himself. He also mentioned he was rather quiet which is surprising given his persona nowadays.