Thursday, November 14, 2013

5 Reasons Why Obama Is More Standoffish Than George W. Bush and Ruder Than Bill Clinton

Extracted from Todd Purdum's article in this month's Vanity Fair:

1. It’s hard to imagine that Obama did not do himself at least some real harm in September by abruptly canceling the annual congressional picnic at the White House—which had already been postponed from June—on the grounds that members would be too busy considering the president’s request for authority to use force in Syria. The rain check was delivered in a terse, graceless, 53-word e-mail to Capitol Hill offices, announcing that “The President and Mrs. Obama look forward to welcoming Members of Congress and their immediate families at the Congressional Holiday Ball in December.” Immediate families. Such a friendly, legalistic ring.

2. In late September, Obama attended a “dinner” fund-raiser for high donors to the Democratic National Committee at the super-luxe Jefferson Hotel a few blocks from the White House. Each of the two dozen-odd guests had contributed $32,400, the maximum allowed by law. The president’s motorcade left the White House for the hotel at 4:19 p.m. and was back at the White House by 5:25. The price of the encounter: about $540 per donor for each minute of the president’s time—at an hour when the only other people eating dinner in Washington were doing so in nursing homes. How much fun could that be—for anyone?

3. On Syria, Obama clearly did not run the congressional traps. Having announced—on his own—that the use of chemical weapons would constitute a red line requiring an American response, he suddenly decided in September to seek congressional approval without any real count of the Democratic caucus. And he made up his mind not in deliberations with his secretaries of state or defense but after a walk around the White House lawn with his chief of staff Denis McDonough—an adviser since his Senate days—before informing a handful of other senior aides of his decision.

4. And then there is golf. Every president since William Howard Taft has played the game, with varying degrees of skill and pleasure. Johnson hated it, and played only so he could talk shop and twist arms with those who did. Woodrow Wilson played only with a close, carefully chosen circle, forbade any talk of business, and never played a second round with anybody who broke that rule. Obama has taken a page out of Wilson’s book, invariably competing in a foursome with the same retinue of junior aides and old friends—most of whom are better than he is and whose seemingly sole mission is to sharpen the president’s own game.

When he was White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel tried in vain to get Obama to play golf with a business titan or two. A match with John Boehner was finally arranged only in 2011, with all the buildup and anticipation of a diplomatic summit—a show exercise, a shadow play. It never had a chance of producing any kind of meaningful connection, in the way that repeated, casual, low-stakes outings might do.

5. And speaking of summits, Obama has no relationship with any foreign leader that is remotely akin to Ronald Reagan’s with Margaret Thatcher, or Bill Clinton and George W. Bush’s with Tony Blair. The scandalous phone-tapping imbroglio—even if the fault of the Bush administration—now makes it unlikely that he ever will.