Jonathan Alter for Slate: The Schmoozing Gene

June 27th, 2013

by Jonathan Alter
June 27, 2013

For years, Barack Obama was able to keep his poll numbers high because the American public saw him as above the fray. But now that his poll numbers are dipping, he lacks the personal relationships to fall back on when the worm turns—in part because he’s stayed so above the fray. Here’s how it happened, in an excerpt from Jonathan Alter’s The Center Holds: Obama and his Enemies, out now from Simon & Schuster.

Suffering fools had always been part of the presidency. George Washington held weekly dinners with legislators—senators one week, congressmen the next. Franklin Roosevelt filled part of many workdays with 15-minute meetings with individual members of Congress, some of whom got to stay for cocktails that FDR mixed himself. Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill traded barbs in public but made time for plenty of jokes in private.

By contrast, the Obamas, with the help of Valerie Jarrett, adopted an informal code in the White House. Obama would bring members of Congress into the White House for large meetings and maybe even give them a ride on Air Force One when he went to their state, but the socializing they craved, the invitations to dinner or a movie, were not often part of the package.

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