America is Going to Miss aving an Introvert in the White House

There is no question that Bill Clinton was guilty of a colossal error in judgment when in strolled over to have a chat with Attorney General Loretta Lynch. That the former President was attempting to make a secret arrangement regarding his wife’s email server issue seems incredibly unlikely: the two were friends, had each others’ contact information and could easily have found a less visible way to have a meddling, inappropriate conversation about the case. And while some may feel it’s within Bill Clinton’s character to attempt to massage the case with some friendly talk, that doesn’t at all seem to be the Attorney General’s style–which would help explain why the Attorney General has been far more apologetic in the wake of the incident, despite the fact that she didn’t cause the problem.

Maybe subconsciously Bill Clinton thought a long-winded, friendly conversation with Lynch over random personal matters might grease the wheels in the way that networking types so often do–much to the discomfort of their introverted associates. Maybe he just wanted to say hello. But it was poor judgment either way. Now Lynch will feel the pressure to be harder on Hillary Clinton than she might otherwise have been simply to lessen the perception of impropriety.

This incident provides an interesting contrast to today’s New York Times profile of President Obama. In it, the president comes across as a careful, thoughtful introvert who cannot wait to end the day’s social obligations and retreat to his quiet space alone or nearly alone, where he can focus on reading, analyzing, relaxing and writing. President Obama is famously disciplined in almost all his ways: he ran efficient and effective campaigns, has managed an eight-year presidency amazingly devoid of anything that might be considered a major personal or professional scandal by himself or his staff, he has kept his emotional composure and maintained his personal physical health all while making mostly excellent decisions as President. Americans from all political perspectives can grouse about things President Obama might have done differently, but no one can seriously question that he took the job seriously and tried to do the right thing from a studied perspective.

Bill Clinton takes a very different approach–and while both can be effective in their own ways, there is no question that Mr. Clinton’s freewheeling, backslapping extroversion comes at a cost. Where President Obama spends his time poring over documents and crafting speeches, Bill Clinton would spend hours on the phone with associates and allies in garrulous conversations that would force his aides to scramble to figure out what he had arranged verbally the night before. Where President Obama maintains a regimen of personal discipline in all respects, Bill Clinton famously did not.

Hillary Clinton for her part seems to be a mix of the two, which could be a good thing. But the email brouhaha itself, while almost certainly not illegal, is an example of less-than-disciplined personal and structural tendencies that have haunted the Clintons for decades.

Of course, Donald Trump is the acme of careless extroversion–a human embodiment of greed, profligacy, corruption and deal-making impulsiveness. If Bill Clinton’s tendencies toward these things are problematic and Hillary Clinton’s are questionable, Donald Trump’s are a hundred times worse even without taking into account their policy preferences and party alignments. So no matter what happens this election, the Oval Office is going to be inhabited by a very different person from the one who holds it now–and not in a good way.

America is going to miss having an introvert in the White House.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.