Peggy Noonan’s recent Wall Street Journal article about President Obama, quoting various people who have associated firsthand with him, reminds me of another strong, charismatic personality. A friend described him:
He is not a dramatic figure; nor is he physically imposing. His eyes, however, and the intensity and warmth of his gaze, set him apart. He is a commanding speaker both in the public arena and in private conversation. His personality is almost hypnotic; his intellect formidable. His animal magnetism seems to envelop others like a warm blanket. He is politically calculating, but only — at least it seems to me — in attempting to realize his lofty goals. There is no evidence of meanness or selfishness in the man that I can see, nor any unseemly pride or ego.
Time and experience, though, have revealed that he is not a good judge of character, and in certain critical instances his decision making is sometimes deeply flawed. His accomplishments, which are many, are marred by some very serious mistakes which have cost him and those that he was associated with very dearly.
Dear soul that he is, his failings make you want to weep. Even in his failures, some of which affected me, my affection, though weakened, has never entirely vanished. We often lament ‘‘if only he had listened to the right people.’’ He had many friends, myself included, who would have liked nothing more than to have helped him succeed. Trouble was, he often didn’t know who his real friends were.
We’ve all encountered such individuals at one point or another — leaders who dominate others by the sheer force of their personalities and the desire of lesser humans to be in contact and be considered an intimate with the exalted one. But there is a complication for the charismatic personality. Once you are no longer in his or her presence — when emotions recede and your rational facilities re-engage — the picture can change.