President Obama’s “Gratitude Gap”
I spent hour three of yesterday’s program with Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter, discussing his new book on President Obama’s first year, The Promise.
One of many exchanges I found interesting:
HH: [L]et me tell you what I found most interesting, Jonathan Alter, and that is the thing I don’t like the most in political people, and it’s not…, it’s bipartisan, it’s shared on both sides of the aisle, is ingratitude. They just often forget how they end up being who they are. And as you write at Page 157, “Gratitude was one of the few qualities that didn’t come to President Obama naturally. It was learned behavior.” Then, almost a hundred pages later, Page 240, “The combination of the normal neediness of politicians everywhere, Obama’s great stature, and his own shortcomings in showing gratitude led to claims he was taking America’s friends abroad for granted.” He’s got a gratitude gap. I thought that was fascinating.
JA: Well, obviously, you know, I wrote that, and I think it is a problem for him, but it’s not a, I don’t want to overemphasize it, either, because there are occasions, particularly if somebody’s hurting or sick, somebody really needs help, where he’s very gracious and attentive. He’s not a cold guy in any sense, but I think what the psychological point is that because he’s not needy, and he doesn’t need to be stroked, and you know, as one of his top people put it to me, you know, he doesn’t give a you-know-what what people think of him. He really, on some level, he just doesn’t. He’s so secure that way that he doesn’t care. And so…and most politicians that you and I know, Hugh, in both parties, they are really needy individuals. They need that adulation. Obama was wrongly depicted as somebody who like needed these crowds. He actually finds it a chore to be out shaking hands and doing a lot of that kind of thing. So because he’s not needy, he doesn’t really understand at an intuitive level, that members of Congress and people who have supported him for a long time, are needy. And so he understands it abstractly, but it’s not something that he takes to naturally the way a Bill Clinton would, say.
Jonathan and I disagree about the size of the president’s ego, his attachment to Alinsky and many other aspects of the president’s character and record, but the book is full of detail and insight into how the president and his team operates, and anyone interested in the politics of the next two-plus years should read it.