One of Jonathan Haidt's starting points is that there are surely good ideas - and good people - on both sides of the left-right divide, which brings me to this find from Quora (a kind of high-quality Q&A forum).
A user had posted the following question: What is President Obama like in person? On most forums this would lead to a stream of abuse and bad jokes but on Quora some interesting insights emerge, including and especially the following. It's from Peter Marquez, who served under George Bush and then, more briefly, Obama, as White House Director of Space Policy. He is a Republican, though his primary identification is Geek: he's a policy guy in the most complex of fields.
Marquez is keen to qualify his comments by saying that he didn't spend a lot of time with the president and only had a few meetings with him, and his observations aren't revelatory or striking. But he's clearly an astute and thoughtful observer. Here he is on Obama's personal manner:
The first feeling I got was of a casual familiarity. President Obama comes across somebody who could be your next door neighbor. He's down to earth. But at the same time a bit guarded- it's hard to explain. Maybe another way to put is that there are people who want to be your friend and then there are people who want you to be their friend-- Obama being the latter. I don't know if this makes sense but it's the best way I can think to describe it.
He also describes the time his wife met Obama (at Marquez's departure party) and recalls Obama offering his wife, then pregnant with a second girl, some rather touching advice on having two daughters. Then, as a decision-maker;
From a policy standpoint the President struck me as someone who was also politically astute. He liked to analyze all the possible options and all of the potential outcomes for those options. I know it drove some of my colleagues crazy having to answer every hypothetical situation but we also understood it as man trying to make sure he got things right.
This wasn't the first time Marquez had responded to a question about presidents. Earlier, someone had asked the same question about Bush, and Marquez responded. As you might expect, perhaps, given that he was Bush's guy, he is very positive. But given Marquez apparent fair-mindedness and keenness to stick to the question - about presidents as people rather than as politicians - his answer on Bush is even more interesting, because it runs so counter to popular image:
The man is smart and has an incredible memory. He'll remember things that you said months ago or he'd remember some minute detail of some obscure policy issue. He studied the issues and took it as a challenge to know as much about a topic as his experts knew. For example, President Bush asked all of the directors in the NSC to put together a transition book for the incoming Obama team. Each director was responsible for creating a book that covered all the details of their specific repsonsibility. I was responsible for space. I put together a 3-inch binder of all the things that we had done and encountered during President Bush's administration. I gave the book to the President and two days later the book shows back up on my desk. In the margins the President had hand written comments and questions and even remembered a few details on things that I, the "expert", had failed to include. Anybody who says the man is dumb has never met him...
On matters of policy the President could quickly home in on the critical points and he would politely hammer away at the issues until he felt he had the right answers or that he knew what the right questions were that needed to be answered. You always made sure you brought your "A" game when talking to the President because he would ask questions about your research or recommendations and you'd better have the answers (or know how to get the answers).
Marquez's wife, he reveals in this answer, is on the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. Much against her better instincts, she found herself charmed by Bush.