But as I read David Remnick’s widely discussed profile of Obama in this week’s New Yorker, I was struck by something that the two men have in common, an overlooked overlap that perhaps suggests what it now takes to get to the White House and why we wind up with the leaders we do. I’m talking about their talent for separation, their tendency to retreat, a fundamental detachment and insularity that seem, in one sense, antithetical to politics but may in fact be an answer to surviving the frenzy that it’s become.
This quality plays out differently in each man, or at least in his affect. Obama can project an icy hauteur, while Bush often communicated a lazy disengagement. And Bush’s surface gregariousness — the chuckling, the nicknames, the vestigial brio of the prep school cheerleader and college fraternity president that he once was — masked his essential remove.
But like Obama, he was constantly pulling back, less fond of crowds than of solitude, less inclined to meet new people than to huddle with a tight circle of trusted intimates. He’s a homebody who grew homesick on the campaign trail and couldn’t hide it, circling back as often as possible to his own bed, to familiar turf.