For 16 years we had Boomer presidencies. Clinton - perhaps the finest retail politician of our time - was also crippled by a self centered neediness, a tendency toward self-pity, that led to the black marks against his presidency. Bush also had that insufferable narcissism of the Boomer generation ("I'm the Decider.").
For Boomers, the world is always all about Boomers. Having been identified in the cradle as a "generation" (the first generation to be so labeled), they have been catered to and solicited at every turn of their lives. They are the piglet passing through the boa constrictor of time, distorting it as they go.
Obama is not a Boomer. Technically, he's at the very end of it, but his temperament is so anti-Boomer. This is at the heart of No-Drama Obama. Much has been written about how the No-Drama persona is a necessary tactic of success for an African American in politics. You can't be the Scary Angry Man if you're black.
While I think that's true, I think we are also looking at a different generational style.
Think about the question from last night: Why is Romney running?
The only answer that makes sense is that either he's rich and bored or he's trying to outdo his dad. If he's rich and bored, I think he would have given up long ago. If he's trying to surpass dad, well, excellent. That worked out so well under Bush 43. "Dad stopped outside Basra. I'm going to Baghdad!"
With Romney there is some unspoken personal need that creates in turn the Romney neediness on the trail. And of course, no discussion of political egos would be complete without one time frontrunner Newt Gingrich.
Santorum is a late Boomer. He straddles between the unbridled narcissism of Romney and the pragmatic idealism of Obama and the post-Boomers. If, to a Boomer, everything is about ME, a post-Boomer tends to focus on problems and solutions. They were the first real "latch key kids" who dealt with very practical issues at a young age.
Both Obama and Santorum are much more issue focused than Romney or Gingrich. Whereas Obama's real focus early on in his career was community action, he found his voice in the Senate and the Campaign as a foreign policy guy, offering a new vision of American foreign policy. He instead inherited an economy in free fall and spent (far too long) studying and becoming knowledgeable about economics.
Santorum's issue preferences are of course well known. He burns with the inner fires of Savanarola. His statements that Satan is attacking America (and only he can stop it) are of a piece with both his preference for his issues and the lingering narcissism of the Boomer set.
Put another way, if you watch the debates tonight, keep an eye on the personal pronouns. Paul doesn't really speak in "I/me", but Gingrich and Romney do. Santorum straddles it more, whereas Obama is definitely a "we/us" guy.
All presidential candidates are ego maniacs. Some are just more so than others.