Obama’s Temper

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We’re in Gary, Indiana where Obama’s delivering his closing argument to a crowd of 40,000. Four days until the election and the strain is clearly getting to the Illinois senator who uncharacteristically snapped at reporters waiting for him in front of his home this afternoon.

The running narrative is Obama is cool where McCain is hot. In all the research I’ve done of him, almost universally his friends and colleagues have described Obama as incredibly patient. When he was a little boy living in Jakarta, Indonesia, he used to hound his friends to play his favorite game. The amusement was one of patience: the kids would take a mango from the Jac tree in Obama’s yard and set a string trap with the sweet fruit for the dragonflies haunting the neighborhood. With the bugs leashed, the children would run through the twisting unpaved paths, their new pets in tow.

His best friend, and campaign treasurer, Marty Nesbitt (whose home Obama was walking to this evening) explained Obama’s temperament to me like this: “He’s very rarely surprised by the way events unfold because he’s got this incredible capacity to play things out in his mind so when things happened he’s already usually considered the scenario. So, very rarely does he react emotionally.”

In fact, Nesbitt said that Obama has only once been surprised in this election: when his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, blasted the Illinois senator in a speech at the National Press Club. “I think you saw a little bit of an emotional response from [Obama],” Nesbitt said. “It was behavior he hadn’t seen and didn’t anticipate,”

Still, patience and a strategic mind doesn’t preclude flashes of temper like the one we saw tonight. He can get “snippy,” when he’s tired or impatient, says Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat and one of Obama’s earliest supporters in the Senate. Getting annoyed at a pack of press following you is only natural, but the blanket coverage is something he has asked for by running for president. But the episode shows he’s also human: irritable when tired.