People Who Have Actually Met President Obama Share Their Impressions
I'll start by saying that I disagree with much of what Obama has done as President.
I can't talk about the president, but I can speak about the 22-year-old Barack Obama. We worked in the same little company and I was his editor.
He wrote a few articles on interest rate swaps for my newsletter, the Business International Money Report, which was aimed at treasurers and CFOs of multinational corporations. It was Barack's first job out of Columbia, and he wrote about it (in not particularly flattering terms) in Dreams of My Father.
Barack was quiet, thoughtful and kind. He treated everyone respectfully, regardless of their age, position or seniority.
There was heavy partying going on at that little company, but Barack actually left at the end of the day and didn't socialize with his co-workers outside of the office. He was polite, helpful, and had zero attitude.
I don't think he found the work particularly engaging, but he didn't complain about it. I liked him. I think everyone did.
#9 The Change
I have never met the President, but I know someone who has. This person is what would be mildly described as a raving and drooling Conservative, who always called him 'Obummer', 'Odumba', or 'B. Hussein Soetro'.
Due to a connection in his family, he was invited as a guest on a boat that the President and First Lady were also on. He couldn't wait to meet him and confirm what a scumbag he was.
However, after he returned, he changed his tune big time, saying while he disagreed with the politics, that the Obamas were some of the nicest people he'd ever met, and when he told his conservative circle of friends this, they basically blackballed him for being a traitor to the cause.
He proudly displayed the signed pics of him and his daughter with the Obamas and wouldn't let anyone talk bad about them in his presence again. Now that is either Devil Magic or a truly genuine nature that he encountered.
I sat next to Barack Obama on a plane headed from DC to Chicago in 2004. It was a late Thursday afternoon, and Congress was headed home for their usual 4-day work from home weekends.
We were both desperately late for the last flight out, and running down to the gateway where we hoped they would hold the plane. Since we were so late, the gate attendant told us to just grab any open seats in the last 2 rows. He outsprinted me, but still waited like a gentleman inside the plane and offered me my choice of remaining seats in the last row.
I was floored. We exchanged pleasantries, and he proceeded to bury himself reading for the remainder of the flight. When it came time to deplane, he again stood up, asked me which was my bag so he could help retrieve it from the overhead bin, and proceeded to place it in the aisle for me. I think that more than qualifies him as a nice guy in real life!
#7 The Incident
I've met Barack Obama on three occasions at political events. Each time I only had 30-45 seconds to chat with him but seemed very personable and had that politician's skill of making you feel like the most important person in the world while you have his attention. He is very "in the moment" when he's with you.
One of my meetings does stand out, though. My mother generally voted Republican up until 2007 when she became a huge fan of Barack Obama's. In 2010, I was invited to meet him prior to the mid-term elections and I was able to bring my 82-year-old mom with me.
She kept saying how she had seen so many things in her life - the Great Depression, WWII, the civil rights battles - and now the first Black President. I took her aside and said, "when he comes in, we're only going to have a few moments with him so be cool. Don't embarrass me." She assured me she wouldn't.
A little while later the door opened, Secret Service staff came into the room with other handlers, and Obama walked in and started greeting people. We all stood in stiff attention as he went from person to person shaking hands and chatting briefly, as is the usual protocol. He got to my mother and reached for her hand but she latched onto his first! She started the same speech about having lived through Depression, WWII, seen so much, etc.
Obama listened intently and kept nodding his head and commenting. My mother wouldn't let go and talked about how much he meant to her and how great the country had been when she was growing up, and he assured her that it was still great and would be even greater in the future. She paused and said, "Can I have a hug?" He said, "Of course!" and bent down and gave her a long, tight squeeze while I took photos. His kindness made a mockery of my fussy concern over my embarrassment.
I have trouble believing Obama ever made anyone as happy as he made my mother that evening. She tells that story to anyone who will listen and has the photos of her hug on her phone so she can look at them any time she wants. The election a few days later was a disaster for the Democrats, and Obama's visit in Ohio certainly did nothing to help at the polls. But he carried the night in my family.
When he was running for Senate here in Illinois back in 2004, I was at Chicago's Union Station to take a train out to work. It was about 6 am. Candidate Obama was by himself, no entourage, shaking hands and chatting with commuters.
I shook his hand and he asked me what I was doing, where I worked, etc. He was genuinely interested in what I had to say. I spoke to him about healthcare (I was freelancing at the time and had very poor coverage) and he offered some thoughts and smart discussion, rather than "I'm going to fix it all."
I liked him immediately and felt he had a certain presence. I do remember thinking he would go far...I just didn't realize how far, how fast.
When I lived in Chicago I would often see Barak Obama at the East Bank Club where he played basketball and worked out.
He was Senator then and, except for really good basketball, he did nothing to draw attention to himself, including absolutely no entourage. He was just a guy having great competitive fun and staying healthy.
#4 Great Guy
My son Dusty, and our whole family, met the President in the Oval Office in 2011 as part of the Make A Wish foundation. As we entered, Hillary Clinton was leaving. He had also had a tough meeting with House Republicans earlier in the day.
What a great guy. He was so welcoming and comfortable. The way he interacted with my severely disabled son was a window into a good soul. We spent 20 minutes with him and he was full of questions and made Dusty feel like he was the important one in the room. Yes, he is a nice person.
For more detail on Dusty: dustystrail.com.
To help with treatments for Duchenne muscular dystrophy coalitionduchenne.org
#3 White House
President Obama maintains a policy that every White House staffer, no matter how low they rank, gets a farewell meeting with the president in the Oval when they leave the WH staff.
The staffers submit a briefing sheet in advance that provides the president with some background. Most bring their families, and the president spends 10 minutes asking about their impressions of the White House and their plans for the future. I attended one of those events when my son left his WH job.
We were the last of about a dozen such groups, late on a Friday afternoon of a very difficult week for the president. He looked exhausted, and he still had an event to attend afterward.
But he could not have been more gracious, and expressed genuine interest in my son and each of us. He reinforced all of my prior impressions that he is a good, decent, funny and humble man, who very much appreciates the sacrifices of those who work long and hard to serve him and the nation.
We are extremely lucky to have had him as our President. I expect he will be Jimmy Carter’s equal as a dedicated servant of America and the people of the world when he leaves office.
I met Barrie and his mom Anne when he took her to Quebec City for Mother's Day in 1992 (or 1991). He walked into the welcome building next to the Basilica. It was a standalone office back then. He asked about the building and museum, we chatted for 3 minutes, he signed my Museum guestbook and was on his way.
He was impressive enough so that, in 2008, I instantly recognized him during the Town Hall meeting debate with Sen. John McCain. He does something interesting where he will smile when you ask him something, continue to write, and then look at you with an answer.
There is really nothing much to say about Obama when you are a nobody and you get to meet him in private, he is exactly as nice as he is when the cameras are on him.
I was 10 years old when Barack Obama took office. I lived in DC so I remember going with my friend whose mother was a reporter to the inauguration.
Later that year, in June, I was going to my baseball practice, running through the bleachers of the soccer field at Palisades park, when I tripped over the foot of a man watching his daughter play soccer. The man helped me up knelt down on his knee and asked if I was okay. That was when I got a good look at him.
I had just scuffed the shoe of the leader of the free world. I told him that I had gotten my parents to vote for him (I did) and that I had a change poster hanging in my bedroom at home (also true).
Not knowing what else to do, the 10-year-old boy that I was gave him an awkward salute and started to run off, but he called after me and threw me my glove that I had dropped. In my excitement and nervousness, I thought I was going to get arrested for a moment after I realized who it was.
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