Our New President the Introvert

I’m really enjoying working my way through Newsweek’s seven-part behind-the-scenes account of the recent US election, Secrets of the 2008 Campaign. I’m learning fun facts, such as the Secret Service’s code names for Barack Obama’s daughters (“Radiance” and “Rosebud”), and not-so-fun facts, like the details about infighting among Hilary Clinton’s staffers. I was especially interested to learn more about the temperament of our President-Elect, and to realize, based on some descriptions of him, that he just might be an introvert.

I must confess that I usually imagine politicians to be uniformly extroverted, as constant interaction with the public would be sure to drain the energy of most introverts. But, I also believe that introverts can learn to be more extroverted in certain situations, and there are some (perhaps tending to the Feeling end of the Myers-Briggs Feeling-Thinking continuum), who really thrive on meaningful interaction with friendly and like-minded individuals. I obviously can’t speak for Mr. Obama, but here are a few pieces of evidence that might confirm his tendency to introversion.

In the first chapter of the series, “How He Did It,” there is a description of some of Obama’s self-doubts early in the campaign, particularly regarding his performance in preliminary debates, and how he dealt with them:

Obama was a relentless self-improver: “I’m my own worst critic,” he told NEWSWEEK, but he was also a loner who needed to step back away from the others, to look more closely at himself. He wasn’t chilly, exactly, but for a politician he was astonishingly inner-directed, and that could make him seem remote.

There are so many introvert “code” words in these two sentences; “loner,” “inner-directed,” and “remote” are very common ways that introverts are characterized (although not always by introverts themselves). Further along in the article there is a telling description of how members of the press first saw the candidate, noting they found him “chilly and guarded.” Sounds like a misunderstood introvert to me!

If you add these observations to Obama’s reputation as a voracious reader and accomplished writer (often hallmarks of an introverted nature), the picture gets a little clearer. If my conjectures are true, and Obama really is an introvert, my admiration for his commitment to a tough job is even greater, and I would be delighted to know that someone “like me” will be occupying the Oval Office come January.

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6 Responses to “Our New President the Introvert”

  1. Evelyn said:

    I’m an introvert by nature and was very quiet and shy growing up. When I was in my early 20s, I decided to be more extroverted. I can be very outgoing and charming, if I am so inspired. I work in a customer service job and interact with people all day. Sometimes they drive me nuts, as deep inside, I’m still an introvert and prefer to be alone.

    I have a brother-in-law who has been a missionary evangelist to Hong Kong and China since he was 20. He’s now in his 60s. He travels the world and speaks at conferences when he’s not at his home church in Hong Kong. When he’s preaching, he’s “on fire” and speaks very well to large audiences in English and the two main dialects of Chinese, Cantonese and Mandarin. When he’s at home, though, he is very quiet and prefers reading books and working on his computer to interacting with others. Anyone who has only seen him preach would not believe this. So, maybe Obama is like my brother-in-law.

  2. spectatrix said:


    You’ve hit the nail on the head. It’s not that introverts can’t be outgoing, it’s just that we need recovery time afterwards. Your brother-in-law sounds similar to my husband. He’s an excellent public speaker, but also cherishes his down time, away from other people.

  3. Robyn said:

    It’s kind of nice to have an introvert for president again after two extrovert presidents. Since 80% of the population is extroverted, we get more of them than they get of us. How exhausting it must have been for Obama on the campaign trail, expending all of this energy. I wonder how, with all of the advisers and handlers and bodyguards, he managed to find quiet places to recharge his battery for the next appearance. I was at a conference on Saturday and I loved talking to people and being exposed to new ideas, but 3/4 of the way through I crashed. I just had to go someplace quiet.

  4. Samuel said:

    Interesting, I can only echo what Evelyn said, I’ve experienced it myself, while observing how I actually act around groups and what I do in the following days.

  5. Gluon the Ferengi said:

    It comes as no surprise at all.

    Introverts make excellent public speakers.

    When one is talking to a group as a whole. It is much closer to the one on one interaction at which introverts excel. Furthermore, introverts are less self conscious about what other people think of them and stage fright is thus less of an issue. Social approval does not define their self concept. Once they overcome the habitual fear being singled out for being different the way is opened.

    An extrovert is going to win in sheer volume of talk every time. Introverts rule when it comes to content: eloquence, persuasive arguments, and thoughtful responses. On the podium, these strengths shine brilliantly.

  6. Jennifer said:

    Obama’s never struck me as an introvert, but that’s an interesting thought you’ve put out there.