David Remnick’s long profile of President Obama in this week’s New Yorker gives the president numerous opportunities to speak at length about a variety of subjects and events. Remnick’s piece is not edited in the style of most New Yorker stories, perhaps because Remnick himself felt that the best way for readers to really “get” Obama was to let him talk (and talk), largely uninterrupted. The portrait that emerges is not so different from the picture most people who follow politics already have of the president: serious, reserved, rather dispassionate, cerebral, intellectual, and proud of his own self-awareness.
It’s this last attribute, however, that has become increasingly noticeable over the past five years. And the more noticeable it’s gotten, the less attractive it has become.
There was a time, of course, when the very idea of having a president who is smart and engaged seemed like a luxury. Obama’s intellect—well caught by Robert Gates in his new memoir—marks an improvement over many other people who have held the office. Remnick defines the style as “the professorial immersion in complexity.” The more familiar way in which liberals characterize this is to say, as John Stewart said during the 2008 campaign, that Obama talks to us “like adults.”