Insulation is a curse of every president, but more than any president since Jimmy Carter, Obama comes across as an introvert, someone who finds extended contact with groups of people outside his immediate circle to be draining. He can rouse a stadium of 80,000 people, but that audience is an impersonal monolith; smaller group settings can be harder for him. Aides have learned that it can be good if he has a few moments after a big East Room event so he can gather his energy again.
Unlike Clinton, who never met a rope line he did not want to work, Obama does not relish glad-handing. That’s what he has Vice President Joe Biden for.
When Obama addressed the Business Roundtable this year, he left after his speech without much meet-and-greet, leaving his aides frustrated that he had done himself more harm than good.
But as Obama gets back on the campaign trail, aides have noticed his old spirit again. He particularly enjoys the so-called backyard sessions on the lawns of supporters. “That’s the happiest I’ve seen him in a long time,” an aide said.
One prominent Democratic lawmaker told me Obama’s problem is that he is not insecure — he always believes he is the smartest person in any room and never feels the sense of panic that makes a good politician run scared all the time, frenetically wooing lawmakers, power brokers, adversaries and voters as if the next election were a week away.