A President Of Habit


In Michael Lewis' recent profile of the president, Obama admitted that he heavily depends on routines, such as only wearing gray or blue suits. This, Obama claims, helps "focus your decision-making energy" and prevents "going through the day distracted by trivia." Maria Popova hears an echo of William James' 1887 treatise Habit:

The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work. There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every bit of work, are subjects of express volitional deliberation.

On that note, one of Fallows' readers, during a discussion of Obama's exercise habits noted in Michael's superb profile, emphasizes the greater demands placed on female candidates:

Obama, and probably Lewis, pretty clearly don't remember what Hillary said during the 2007-08 nomination race, when he [Obama] made similar remarks about having to exercise.  She said: he has time to exercise, because he doesn't have to spend two hours, every single day, getting his make-up and hair done.

Backwards and in high heels, indeed. A female candidate– even one who would clearly personally prefer to go sans make-up– will not be accepted without super-careful, professional appearance grooming.  Same with the clothes.  Hilary must dream of just being able to roll into a blue or gray suit.  Instead, she's obliged to have a constantly-rotating wardrobe, with accessories, purely because she's a woman. In addition, it took her a long time to find a sort of uniform– those pantsuits– that would conceal her figure appropriately but also look "fashionable," which no man has to do.  She learned very early, the hard way, that bucking these conventions would get her nowhere– the no make-up, hippie-glasses, frumpy Wellesley head-of-class look got her called a lesbian, communist, you name it.

Men don't understand that a huge reason professional women rallied to Hilary is that WE get it, and, I really believe, Obama does not.  He truly does not comprehend how much harder it is for a woman in so many ways, let alone just on this one physical issue.  If he did, he wouldn't have approved the quote about exercise and wardrobe.

(Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid adjusts the tie of President Barack Obama prior to a Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on October 28, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.)