Obama, the loner president
By Scott Wilson, Published: October 7
Beyond the economy, the wars and the polls, President Obama has a problem: people.
This president endures with little joy the small talk and back-slapping of retail politics, rarely spends more than a few minutes on a rope line, refuses to coddle even his biggest donors. His relationship with Democrats on Capitol Hill is frosty, to be generous. Personal lobbying on behalf of legislation? He prefers to leave that to Vice President Biden, an old-school political charmer.
Obama’s circle of close advisers is as small as the cluster of personal friends that predates his presidency. There is no entourage, no Friends of Barack to explain or defend a politician who has confounded many supporters with his cool personality and penchant for compromise.
Obama is, in short, a political loner who prefers policy over the people who make politics in this country work. ...
Which raises an odd question: Is it possible to be America’s most popular politician and not be very good at American politics?
Obama’s isolation is increasingly relevant as the 2012 campaign takes shape, because it is pushing him toward a reelection strategy that embraces the narrow-cast politics he once rejected as beneath him. Now he is focused on securing the support of traditional Democratic allies — minorities, gays, young people, seniors, Jews — rather than on making new friends, which was the revolutionary approach he took in 2008, when millions of first-time voters cast their ballots for his promise of change.
Most of those first-time voters were either young or minorities, so I don't see that big a difference.
This essay is based on conversations with people inside and outside the White House since March 2009, when I began covering the Obama administration. ...
The president’s supreme confidence in his intellectual abilities and faith in the power of good public policy left the political advisers and policymakers in his White House estranged.
.... “He’s playing chess in a town full of checkers players,” a senior adviser and campaign veteran told me in the first months of the administration. Obama had a “different metabolism,” the aide explained.
“It’s not cockiness,” the adviser added, “it’s confidence.”
... Who was the president listening to? The academics, bankers and campaign operatives who populated his inner circle — with personalities much like his own.
... On the stump, Obama is often the star of his own story, preferring a first-person identification with nearly any issue.
... But where is everyone else in the running autobiography that is the Obama presidency?
The president never spends more than 15 minutes working a rope line, his advisers say, and donors complain about a White House that keeps Obama away from the necessary push and pull of America’s capitalist democracy.
The Clinton presidency, which Obama frequently praises for its economic stewardship, offers an instructive comparison.
Where Clinton worked a room until he met everyone, Obama prefers to shake a few hands, offer brief remarks and head home to spend the night in the residence, so he can have breakfast with his girls the next morning and send them off to school. That may be good for his mental health
, but it’s a challenge for those in the reelection campaign assigned to manage the whims of big donors.
Whenever I read this kind of inner circle anti-Obama piece, I always get the impression the writer has just gotten off the phone with Haim Saban complaining that Hillary would be a much better President.
... After hours, Obama prefers his briefing book and Internet browser, a solitary preparation he undertakes each night after Sasha and Malia go to bed.
... Obama rarely uses the trappings of his office or his status to make new political allies, whether it’s an evening phone call to a big donor or a thank you to a legislator who casts a tough vote.
Here's a thought experiment to test that: What if his Indonesian stepfather Lolo Soetoro had decided to tell everybody that little Barry was his son, and Stanley Ann had gone along with the gag? (Weirder stuff has happened.) Barry wouldn't have known. He was a tot when his real dad skedaddled. Lolo could have gone around saying, "Granted, my kid doesn't look totally Indonesian, but his wooly hair comes from this New Guinean great-grandmother of mine I never happened to have mentioned before."