The Company Obama Keeps

by Lyle H. Rossiter, Jr., M.D.

What are we to make of Barack Obama? Most of us think he makes a good impression: he is friendly, likeable, intelligent and courteous. His speeches are often inspiring and eloquent. He remains calm and controlled under verbal fire, and he seems to do so without much effort. A friend and fellow faculty member at the U. of Chicago, Cass Sunstein, describes him as an excellent listener, very reasonable and willing to go where the evidence takes him. All of this sounds most admirable.

Nevertheless, there has emerged within the last several weeks an increasing sense of discomfort with Mr. Obama, and not just because of his political views. Of course those views do matter. For one thing, his overall voting record is extremely liberal, a fact which makes many of us uneasy. For another, some of his recent remarks suggest either a troubling ignorance of basic economics or a willingness under the banner of "fairness" to punish productivity with higher taxes. Whatever economic and social policy positions he declares as a presidential candidate, it is clear that Mr. Obama lives in the far left camp of American politics. His voting record and economic policies are likely to keep him there.

But what has emerged in the last few months as most troubling about this very interesting man has more to do with who he is personally than what he believes politically. Based on what we have learned recently about a number of persons close to him, we are reminded of the old saw that a man may be judged by the company he keeps. The most notable company Mr. Obama has kept for the last twenty years is, of course, his pastor and father-figure, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, an unusually hateful race monger and America basher, and a man whom Mr. Obama and his wife Michelle have chosen to guide their children's religious education. Less prominent, but still making headlines, is Mr. Obama's relationship with a man he describes as his mentor and friend, Tony Rezko, who is now being tried in federal court on charges of financial and political wrongdoing. A third person to whom Mr. Obama is obviously close is his very accomplished wife, Michelle Obama, whose black racism and hostility toward America, dating back to her college days, has lately attracted attention in the press. Finally, Mr. Obama has had an ongoing relationship with former radical Weather Underground leader, William Ayers, who only a few years ago said he wished he had set off more bombs in his radically destructive youth than he in fact did.

It appears from this list that Mr. Obama is quite comfortable with persons in whom anger is a prominent dynamic, or criminal impulses are overtly expressed, or both. In fact, it would not be a stretch to conclude that he is even attracted to such persons, not just comfortable with them, given his conscious choices of wife, pastor and friends. Your average political candidate, for example, would probably not count among his friends an ex-domestic terrorist or an indicted federal defendant, nor listen on Sundays to hate speech in church, nor have a wife who angrily claims she has been victimized by American society, especially if she is highly educated in two elite universities and highly paid for her work in a third. In fact, given what we know about the way the human mind works, what would be a stretch would be any claim that Mr. Obama's relationships with this many angry and/or destructive people are purely coincidental, though we can expect his supporters to make that very claim in his defense. Indeed, from a psychodynamic perspective, his tolerance of, let alone his affection for, persons who are enduringly angry almost guarantees that he has his own anger "issues."

So, does he actually have such issues? Behind his calm, cordial and well controlled persona, is Mr. Obama an angry man? Is there any evidence to that effect in his personal history? Would he describe himself as significantly angry or hostile?

And anyway, does any of this matter? It should. We should know by now that a candidate's character is not irrelevant to the office he seeks. We should also know that an undercurrent of anger is not irrelevant to character. It would seem beyond coincidence that many of the most prominent people in Mr. Obama's life are either verifiably angry or have antisocial attitudes, or both. This is one of the reasons why many Americans have become uncomfortable with him. There is something wrong with the picture of Mr. Obama as we get to know more about him and about the company he keeps.