Mr. Obama, in general, does not go out of his way to play the glad-handing, ego-stroking presidential role. While he does sometimes offer a ride on Air Force One to a senator or member of Congress, more often than not, he keeps Congress and official Washington at arm’s length, spending his down time with a small — and shrinking — inner circle of aides and old friends.
He typically golfs with a trio of mid- to low-level staff members little known outside the West Wing. He does not spend much time at Camp David, the retreat other presidents have used to woo Washington. His social life runs toward evenings playing Taboo with old friends and their families, Wii video games with his wife and daughters or basketball with Robert Wolf, a banker and the rare new best friend Mr. Obama has acquired since entering politics. He vacations with friends from Chicago on Martha’s Vineyard in August and in Hawaii at Christmas.
This week, for example, Mr. Obama is ensconced in the protective bubble of the Secret Service. With him are his closest outside-the-Beltway-friends, including Eric Whitaker, a Chicago doctor, and two of Mr. Obama’s Hawaii friends from Punahou School: Mike Ramos, a businessman, and Robert Titcomb, a commercial fisherman whom Mr. Obama has stuck by despite his arrest in April on suspicion of soliciting a prostitute. Mr. Obama bolted from Washington last Friday barely an hour after he had signed legislation extending the payroll tax cut after a grinding fight with House Republicans whose result is widely viewed as a big win for him. His relationship with Washington insiders is described by members of both parties as “remote,” “distant” and “perfunctory.”
“This is not a Lincoln bedroom guy,” said James Carville, the Democratic strategist, referring to the guest bedroom at the White House where President Bill Clinton put up supporters and donors. “In fact, he’s the anti-Lincoln bedroom guy. He doesn’t seem to relish, or even like, having politicians around.”
To many in Washington — including those, of course, who crave presidential face time — Mr. Obama’s seeming aloofness is risky. He is the nation’s politician in chief, and the presidency has always been first and foremost about politics.
“It’s about building relationships,” said Gerald Rafshoon, a television producer who was President Jimmy Carter’s communications director. “Some people are saying he’s a recluse. You don’t want that reputation. He needs to show that he likes people.”
It’d be especially nice if he were to show he likes American people.