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Ruth Marcus
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Thursday 9 February 2012
“Somehow from their different environments emerged two men shaped by a sense of outsiderness.”

Obama and Romney Exhibit Striking Similarities

The general election is shaping up as a contest between two remarkably similar men.

Not ideologically. Despite the Newt Gingrich-peddled notion that “there really is no difference” between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, the gulf in political philosophy is enormous.

Both men, left to their own devices, would occupy a centrist place within their own parties. But Obama envisions a far more muscular role for government in general and the federal government in particular. Romney’s faith is primarily — excessively, in my view — in the free market.

Still, assuming that Romney becomes the Republican nominee, the two candidates will share surprisingly similar temperaments and habits of mind. They are different from the standard-issue politician — both are more aloof than gregarious, more cerebral than impassioned.

These similarities could not have been predicted from their entirely different backgrounds. Romney came from wealth; Obama’s mother was for a time on food stamps. Romney idolized his father; Obama scarcely knew his. Romney’s upbringing was defined by his Mormonism; organized religion was not part of Obama’s early life.

Romney’s was a white, suburban childhood out of “Father Knows Best.” Obama’s was multiracial and helter-skelter — in Hawaii and Indonesia, living with his mother or left with his grandparents.

Yet somehow from these different environments emerged two men shaped by a sense of outsiderness.

“From early childhood, he formed his views through observation and analysis, by hanging back as the world unfolded before him,” Michael Kranish and Scott Helman write in “The Real ­Romney.”

David Maraniss, whose biography, “Barack Obama: The Story,” will be published in June, describes the president in similar terms. Much like his mother, “Obama is an anthropologist — a participant/observer,” Maraniss, a Post associate editor, told me.

Both Obama and Romney exude cool detachment, even insularity, as The New Republic’s Timothy Noah demonstrated with an array of indistinguishable snippets from “The Real Romney” and Jodi Kantor’s “The Obamas.” They are not party animals, in either sense of that phrase — neither extroverted socializers nor partisan champions.

Both men lack the typical politician’s craving for external approval and validation. They exhibit a disdain for the ordinary obligations of political life, whether endlessly posing for photos (Obama) or robotically delivering a stump speech (Romney).

“It is the opinion of some of Romney’s friends,” Benjamin Wallace-Wells wrote in New York magazine, “that the repetitive business of campaigning simply bores him and that this boredom is responsible for the fairly sizable gap between the charismatic man they know in private and the battery-powered figure who often appears in public.”

Obama, likewise, deems himself above the meet-and-greet aspect of politics. The president, Kantor wrote, “hated to waste time, and . . .schmoozing — like making emotional speeches — was another part of politics he seemed to have decided was mostly fake.”

Indeed, Obama and Romney are less back-slappers than ­report-readers, technocratic elitists with an abiding faith in the meritocracy. Confronted with a problem, their instincts are to assemble the experts and split the difference.

It is no accident, then, that their health care programs share the distinguishing — perhaps politically disqualifying — feature of requiring individuals to obtain coverage.

Romney was convinced to go for the individual mandate by Democratic economist Jonathan Gruber’s computer modeling. Obama, after savaging Hillary Clinton during the campaign for including a mandate in her plan, briskly switched course, post-election, when his health care advisers made the case that his program wouldn’t work otherwise.

Finally, both men reflect a certain ideological inscrutability, despite years in the public eye.

“To this day, he remains an enigmatic presence to people outside his closest circle, a puzzle whose pieces don’t neatly fit,” Kranish and Helman write of Romney. “Many see in him what they want to see: a centrist or a conservative, an economic wizard or a rapacious capitalist, an adaptable leader or a calculating politician who will do anything to get elected.”

For Obama, that essential mysteriousness — Is he a liberal? A moderate? — has been more of a plus, inspiring voters to pour their hopes into an undefined vessel. He is a self-proclaimed Rorschach test for voters to interpret at will.

The Obama-Romney comparison is admittedly imperfect. Obama’s is a graceful aloofness; he comes off as cool but not needy. Romney is awkward in his aloofness; he tries too hard to connect. The difference between the two candidates is the difference between crooning Al Green and reciting obscure verses of “America the Beautiful.”

Yet the similarities are striking. As the campaign grinds into the general-election phase, these traits will, I predict, become all the more evident and intriguing.

© , Washington Post Writers Group


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ABOUT Ruth Marcus

Ruth Marcus is a columnist and editorial writer for The Post, specializing in American politics and domestic policy. Marcus has been with The Post since 1984. She joined the national staff in 1986, covering campaign finance, the Justice Department, the Supreme Court and the White House. From 1999 through 2002, she served as deputy national editor, supervising reporters who covered money and politics, Congress, the Supreme Court, and other national issues. She joined the editorial board in 2003 and began writing a regular column in 2006. A graduate of Yale College and Harvard Law School, she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007. She lives in Maryland with her husband, Jon Leibowitx, their two daughters, and the world’s cutest dog.

This article is the essence

This article is the essence of 'balanced' reportage. It is thoughtful, thought-provoking, and fair, as well as open-minded about the 'personalities' involved in politics.

As such, it represents exactly what is hideous and hopeless about the 'liberal' media. Nowhere here does a role for citizens appear, except to 'pour their expectations' into hoped-for ideals that a candidate may or may not have.

Until journalism--and more particularly NationOfChange, sees fit to include in its informational sallies more of a mandate for participation, a call for people's stepping up to the plate as leaders instead of as followers--or as mere observers of the 'participant-observer' politicos--democracy will remain a far-off hope that will fail to manifest. In times like these, such a failure could easily spell the end of time for all the cousins on the planet.

When will we-the-people have a 'press' worthy of the verb as well as the noun? Inquiring minds would like to know.

single payer healthcare may

single payer healthcare may be the better option.
And... let's not give up on finding a candidate who will back campaign finance reform, even if it means a Contsitutional ammendment. That gets to the root of our current problems.

Norman Allen's picture

They both seem to serve the

They both seem to serve the same people no matter what they say during elections.

nonesense--a biracial man

nonesense--a biracial man raised by a single parent in an overseas state and far off Indo-Asia and a slick Mormon son of Detroit executive?

nonesense--a biracial man

nonesense--a biracial man raised by a single parent in an overseas state and far off Indo-Asia and a slick Mormon son of Detroit executive?

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