Obama’s Achilles’ Heel: A Writer’s Soul?

Journal-isms: A Vanity Fair profile of the president reveals that he has a journalistic personality trait.

“He Can Be in a Room but Detach Himself”

A writer granted rare access to President Obama for six months said Wednesday that the politically costly charge that the president is aloof grows out of a personality trait he shares with journalists: “It’s the personality trait of a writer.”

Michael Lewis, the best-selling author of “Moneyball” and “The Big Short,” conducted multiple interviews with the president that culminated in a 15,000-word piece for the October issue of Vanity Fair.

What I noticed is that that office takes your personality and exaggerates it,” Lewis told Terry Gross Wednesday on NPR’s “Fresh Air.” “You become a caricature of who you are. And he has a personality trait that costs him politically, and it’s the personality trait of a writer. He really is, at bottom, a writer. And the trait is he’s in a moment and not in a moment at the same time.

“That he can be in a room but detach himself at the same time. It’s almost as if he’s writing about it at the same time he’s participating in it. It’s a curious inside/outside thing. It means — and what this does, you know, the charge that he’s aloof, I think, grows right out of this trait.

“So he’s got these traits that are of ambiguous value to the job but you can’t do anything about it. It’s who he is. His politics, he’s essentially a pragmatist. He’s just like a — his nature is problem-solving. So it’s a little hard to — he’s not an ideologue so it’s a little hard to get too worked up either way about, you know, his politics.”

That Obama might have a writer’s personality might not be as surprising as it first appears. After all, he wrote two successful books, “Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance” and “The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream.”

Describing “Dreams From My Father” in 2008, Janny Scott wrote in the New York Times:

” ‘The book is so literary,’ said Arnold Rampersad, a professor of English at Stanford University who teaches autobiography and is the author of a recent biography of Ralph Ellison. ‘It is so full of clever tricks — inventions for literary effect — that I was taken aback, even astonished. But make no mistake, these are simply the tricks that art trades in, and out of these tricks is supposed to come our realization of truth.’ “