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Sunday, 8 January 2017

Barack Obama (IEI) - Personality Type Analysis

Barack Hussein Obama is an American lawyer, book author and politician who is currently serving as the 44th President of the United States.

He was born in Hawaii in 1961. His father and namesake was a Kenyan student who met his American mother, Ann Dunham, as they were studying in Honolulu. They got married in early 1961 when they were 24 and 18 years old respectively. The three of them only lived together as a family in Hawaii for some months, as Obama Sr’s and Ann’s studies separated them geographically, with him eventually returning to Kenya in 1964, around which time they divorced. Ann then met and married Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian student at the University of Hawaii. She moved to Jakarta with the then 6-year old Barack Obama to join her husband.  In 1971, Ann decided to send her son back to Honolulu to live with her parents, the main reason being, according to Obama himself, her desire for him to get the best possible education. Ann eventually also left Indonesia and divorced Soetoro.

Obama enjoyed a fairly comfortable middle-class life in Honolulu with his grandparents, attending a very prestigious high school, moving to Los Angeles in 1981 to attend Occidental College and later transferring to Columbia University in NYC to study political science. After graduating he had for one year a standard entry-level corporate job which he then quit to look for jobs in community organising. After about 6 months unemployment he finally found such a position in Chicago, moving there from New York in 1985. In 1988, after visiting his relatives in Kenya, and famously seeing his father’s grave, he entered Harvard Law School and in his first year there became an editor of the Harvard Law Review, and its president the following year. Becoming the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review made Obama a public figure for the first time, attracting media attention and leading to an advance for writing a book, which would become eventually “Dreams from my father”, published in 1995. Obama himself has written that becoming the president of the Harvard Law Review was the major turning point in his life as far as a political career was concerned.

In the following years, Obama worked in several law firms in quick succession and as a lecturer in the University of Chicago Law School, while also active politically in a voter-registration campaign in 1992. This eventually led to his career in electoral politics, first as State Senator in Illinois in 1996, and later as an US Senator in 2004. That year also saw his other “big break” as a national public figure as he was asked to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention that confirmed John Kerry as presidential candidate, immediately attracting national attention. Three years later, at the suggestion of his leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, Obama announced his candidacy for the nomination for President of the United States. He beat Hillary Clinton (LSI) for the Democratic nomination and John McCain (ESI) in the general election. He was re-elected in 2012, beating Mitt Romney (LSE).

For a Socionics analysis, there is, in principle, a nearly unlimited material in the form of speeches, interviews, debates, and the like. Yet, most of that is material from his career as a highly successful, professional politician, which will inevitably be politicised, carefully tailored to promote him and advance his agendas. So, I am focusing mostly on the available material that precedes his political career. By that, I mean his 1995 book “Dreams from my father”, and videos of the time for what they reveal: both of Obama’s priorities and of how he processes his thoughts, as well as testimonies of people who knew him back then, complementing that with observations of him as president that seem obvious.

Dreams from my father” can be described as Obama’s memoirs (not as his autobiography), but focusing very heavily on his search for personal identity – a personal identity in the sense of finding out which group, which collective, he could belong to, since having just an individual identity was not meaningful enough. He needed to feel he belonged to something larger than himself – that is how Obama explained his motivations to write the book in a Q&A session  in 1995. Reading the book, it is very obvious that that is something very important to him, indeed the very core of his thoughts. For a Socionics analysis, that already suggests the Beta quadra,  the most likely to be concerned with issues of personal and group identity, those being related to T and L. 

That book also illustrates very clearly the content of Obama’s thought and how he processes information. He is constantly describing how what he sees or experiences is affecting him, in the sense of triggering emotions, images, and memories – but in a sort of uncontrolled way, that is, as he himself puts it, he is not immediately aware of the meaning of those images and emotions, and what is triggering them, and how they fit together. Indeed, a large part of the book is precisely about trying to understand precisely that.

One example (among very many in the book) is this bit – Obama reacting to his first telephone conversation with his half-sister in Kenya:
“After she hung up, I left my office, telling my secretary I’d be gone for the day. For hours I wandered the streets of Manhattan, the sound of Auma’s voice playing over and over in my mind. A continent away, a woman cries. On a dark and dusty road, a boy skids out of control, tumbling against hard earth, wheels spinning to silence. Who were these people, I asked myself, these strangers who carried my blood? What might save this woman from her sorrow? What wild, unspoken dreams had this boy possessed?
Who was I, who shed no tears at the loss of his own?"


As described in the summary above, Obama gave up what seemed like a promising, conventional corporate career in NYC to go into community organising – before he had any position or plan for that. He himself explains that when he took that very important, life-changing decision, he had no idea why he was doing it:
“Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can construct a certain logic to my decision, show how becoming an organizer was a part of that larger narrative, starting with my father and his father before him,  my mother and her parents, my memories of Indonesia with its farmers and the loss of Lolo to power, on through Ray and Frank, Marcus and Regina; my move to New York; my father’s death. I can see that my choices were never truly mine alone – and that that is how it should be, that to  assert otherwise is to chase after a sorry sort of freedom. But such recognition came only later."

I re-emphasise that this kind of description of his thought process, based on images and emotions of meaning not always clear to him or to the reader, is present everywhere in the text (it is also very present in his later, more politically aware book, "The Audacity of Hope"). As per his own description, Obama saw himself not as a free agent, but as moving in a “narrative”, which he followed as he perceived it, well before he understood how it all fit together logically – while thinking that was better than “a sorry sort of freedom”. 

The above points strongly to T as an ego function, T1 more likely than T2, with L as a valued but weak function; he needs to find a logic to his thoughts and actions but is consistently insecure about that. Also, the fact that he finds it natural not to be a free agent as an individual, or even to not always be consciously aware of the reasons for his decisions, suggests also that F is not a strong function. That again points to IEI or EIE as Obama’s likely type. Obama’s thought pattern is to react to T and E information that will eventually lead to L conclusions and worldviews, but in a way that he is not fully conscious of.

Connecting that to how Obama approaches his relationships with other individuals. He described many, maybe all, of the encounters he had in Kenya with his relatives – several half-siblings, aunts, grandmother. Revealingly, the only one he very clearly could not relate to at all, and whom, as he makes clear, he had no wish to see again, is his younger half-brother, Mark, son of his father and Ruth, his father’s other American wife. Mark was a physicist and student at Stanford. Obama saw him as his "foggy mirror image" and he describes their only in-depth conversation:
“Mark cut off a bite of his samosa and put it into his mouth. ‘As for the rest of Kenya, I don’t feel much of an attachment. Just another poor African country’. 
‘You don’t ever think about settling here?’ 
Mark took a sip from his Coke. ‘No’, he said. ‘I mean, there’s not much work for a physicist, is there, in a country where the average person doesn’t have a telephone’. 
I should have stopped then, but something – the certainty in this brother’s voice, maybe, or our rough resemblance, like looking into a foggy mirror – made me want to push harder. I asked, ‘Don’t you ever feel like you might be losing something?’ 
Mark put down his knife and fork, and for the first time that afternoon his eyes looked straight into mine. 
‘I understand what you’re getting  at’, he said flatly. ‘You think that somehow I’m cut off from my roots, that sort of thing’. - - ‘Well, you’re right. At a certain point, I made a decision not to think about who my real father was. He was dead to me even when he was still alive. I knew that he was a drunk and showed no concern for his wife or children. That was enough.’ 
‘It made you mad’. 
‘Not mad. Just numb.’ 
‘And that doesn’t bother you? Being numb, I mean?’ 
‘Towards him, no. Other things move me. Beethoven’s symphonies. Shakespeare’s sonnets. I know – it’s not what an African is supposed to care about. But who’s to tell me what I should and shouldn’t care about? Understand, I’m not ashamed of being half Kenyan. I just don’t ask myself a lot of questions about what it all means. About who I really am.’ He shrugged. ‘I don’t know. Maybe I should. I can acknowledge the possibility that if I looked more carefully at myself, I would...’ 
For the briefest moment I sensed Mark hesitate, like a rock climber losing his footing. Then, almost immediately, he regained his composure and waved for the check. 
‘Who knows?’ he said. ‘What’s certain is that I don’t need the stress. Life’s hard enough without all that excess baggage'. 
We stood up to leave, and I insisted on paying the bill. Outside we exchanged addresses and promised to write, with a dishonesty that made my heart ache."

Obama does not say explicitly why he knew he would not contact Mark again. He seemed to think that what he described above made it obvious. Mark was not at all interested in what was the very core of Obama’s mind. He was what Obama elsewhere called "a practical man" concerned with his own life, not his group identity, and focused precisely on the “sorry sort of freedom” Obama despised. Another major example of such a "practical man" was his Indonesian stepfather Lolo Soetoro, a pragmatic man focusing on progressing on his career working in the oil sector, also so that he could provide better for Ann and Barack, a man personally kind to him but whom he didn't understand and never got really close to. Actually Lolo's priorities, which seemed very P focused, alienated not only Ann but Obama. Both saw the economic realities in Indonesia as due to power (F) structures, and as per Obama's account saw Lolo's career focus as "surrendering to power". That points to Obama's stronger focus on F than P, with very low understanding for those focusing on P, like Lolo and Mark. That is perfectly consistent with the P4 of IEIs.

And the above is also revealing about Obama’s approach to R – that is, his personal relationships with individuals. From what he describes, it is very clear that his default inclination is to establish a closer connection with every member of his family, however distant – but only, as is clear with Mark’s case, if they share basic L worldviews and premises, or at least if they don't clash too obviously. 
Obama made this explicit when he describes how he chose his friends when at Occidental College:
“To avoid being mistaken for a sellout, I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets.

Obama’s priorities for choosing whom he wants to get closer to are thus based more on L, i.e. impersonal criteria (such as ideological agreement or consanguinity) than R criteria, i.e. assessment of individual character – the opposite of his brother Mark, who seemed to prefer R criteria as per his remarks on their father. That again is consistent with Obama being of the Beta quadra. Obama is however very much aware of how R individual connections operate, as per other observations in his book, which points to it being in a strong function, very consistently with the R8 of IEIs. .

Moving on to Obama’s E. Besides what he describes of his thought process – which shows T blocked with E rather than P – I think it is self-evident that one of Obama’s greatest strengths as a politician is his skill as an inspirational speaker. In his 1995 video, as he reads from his book, his mastery of oratory, of how to act out the voices of the different characters speaking, of how to make the narrative flow flawlessly - all of that is obvious, and I daresay it is obvious to anyone who has observed Obama at any point in his life. Also, if there is one aspect in his life that Obama does not show the slightest bit of doubt or insecurity in his memoirs, it is how to approach people, individually or collectively, independently of the social situation. That is characteristic of types with strong E, and again, I suggest it's self-evident in Obama's case.

Some remarks by two ex girlfriends who knew him well in his New York years, as reported here, are revealing as well. One of them said that in those years nothing much seemed to be happening in Obama's life, but she said that that was a mistake, since a lot of what was happening to Barack Obama was happening in his own head” - a characteristic observation of Intuitive Integrator types. The other ex remarked that it was clear to her what kind of woman Obama needed and was dreaming of - "very strong, very upright, a fighter, a laugher" - that is, someone with strong F, and that fits perfectly the F5 of IEIs.

T1, E2, P4, F5, L6, R8 - they are very obvious and point clearly to IEI as the socionics type of Barack Obama.


Sources: besides the videos linked and Obama's book Dreams from my father and to a lesser extent The Audacity of Hope, I also consulted books and videos by several people in a position to observe him more closely, such as Game Change by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann on the 2008 election, and The Stranger by Chuck Todd on how Obama interacted with Washington politicians as president. All confirm IEI in my view.


To learn more about IEI, click here.

If you are confused by our use of Socionics shorthand, click here.

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