Advisers said a more accurate description is of someone simply self-reliant, lacking the insecurity gene that leads other politicians to crave constant attention and seek new acquaintances. "In his private time, he likes to be with his friends," another close White House adviser said. "Admittedly, it's a complaint you hear from fundraisers and reporters - that he doesn't schmooze. But he just doesn't like being with people who he doesn't necessarily know."
But there can be a downside to his cloistered approach: It does not give him ready access to political friendships that can prove helpful in a pinch or let him explore ideas with allies - or foes - outside the formal setting of meetings and phone calls. One Democrat who has been invited to the White House for several meetings said that at one encounter, Obama's appearance was so brief he did not even ask any of his supporters questions or advice.
Some lawmakers see it more as a sign of insularity, if not arrogance. "He doesn't suffer fools, and he thinks we're all fools," one senior Republican member of Congress said.
Several White House advisers said they expect that perception to start to change, in part from political necessity as the president forges new alliances with the Republican Congress...Yet in numerous interviews, donors and outside consultants, along with lawmakers in both parties, complained about what they described as Obama's arm's-length treatment. They did so on condition of anonymity in order to speak freely about the president's personality.
Obama rarely makes a spontaneous phone call, as President Bill Clinton would, or stays well past the dessert course because he is engrossed in conversation. His social encounters are highly scheduled, and to participants they sometimes feel forced unless they are also about work. "He's disdainful of things that make people feel connected to him," one Democratic leader said. "People want to feel like they have a relationship, and he stridently resists."
It is a characteristic that dates back to his early adulthood, at least. On the first page of his autobiography, "Dreams From My Father," Obama describes himself as a 21-year-old loner who was "prone to see other people as unnecessary distractions" and to avoid excessive social contact in his New York neighborhood.
"If the talk began to wander, or cross the border into familiarity, I would soon find reason to excuse myself," Obama wrote in the 1995 memoir. "I had grown too comfortable in my solitude, the safest place I knew."
The Republican lawmaker said Obama "always seems a little uncomfortable" in social settings, unlike his two predecessors.
This year's White House holiday party for members of Congress was no exception, he said. Where Vice President Biden was chatting up members - telling jokes and slapping his former congressional colleagues on the back - and Michelle Obama was "great with kids, and humoring politicians," her husband seemed less enthralled by having guests sidle up to him. In most cases, Obama spent only a moment or two with each at the photo line.
In fact, President George W. Bush was no more fond of cultivating donors or new friends than his successor is, and he tended to retire to the residence at an even earlier hour. But what Bush lacked in enthusiasm for late-night events he made up for in nicknames and jokes. Bush also knew how to win certain men's hearts: He assiduously cultivated Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, inviting his family for a movie at the White House, naming a Justice Department building for Kennedy's brother Robert and hosting a black-tie dinner in honor of his sister Eunice.
People who have worked with Obama acknowledged he is not - and will never be - the kind of jocular creature Bush was, nor overly social as Clinton was. If he is branching out now, either with donors or Republicans, it is to achieve specific goals rather than forge new but vague alliances.
Another veteran Democratic consultant who knows both presidents said that whether Obama relishes it or not, he should be nudged in a more expansive direction in the coming months. Onetime Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta "walled off time for Clinton not to talk to people. Obama needs the opposite," she said.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
The Solitary Obama
Here's another article on the peculiar side of Obama, his unwillingness to reach out to anyone beyond his very close (and small) circle of family, friends, and advisors: