As of now, I am in control here, in the White House

Obama’s Missing Ingredient

The New York Times has a piece today about Obama’s well know abhorrence of Washington’s schmoozing rituals.

This is one of the things I like about Obama: He actually has real friends, he stands by them when they mess up, and he can’t stand Washington backslapping.

Unfortunately, backslapping is part of the job he took in January, 2009, and his abhorrence of the practice has been harmful to the country, because it has cost us a chance to rein in the deficit.

A colleague of mine and I used to joke about our “fake friends.” We’d be like, “Hey, how are your fake friends today? Did wish your fake friend a happy birthday?”

One of my shortcomings as a reporter is that I didn’t have enough fake friends. I tended to be in touch with people I enjoyed. I’d rather have my lunch with an actual friend, with a “source” I liked, or otherwise with the opinion section of the newspaper. I got more personal satisfaction, but fewer scoops than I might have.

"Rahm, will you still be my fake friend after you leave?" "Yes, Mr. President, I will." Photo by Keith Koffler

Washington is built, actually on fake friendships. People pretend to be interested in what each others’ kids are doing, how they’re job is going, how their checkup with the cardiologist went, and so forth.

But what they are really doing is establishing relationships so they can get something from each other. In the case of reporters, it’s information they want. Lobbyists want legislation. Politicians want money. And presidents, when it comes to members of Congress, want votes.

Obama had an historic opportunity this year to forge a bipartisan consensus on a means to save the nation from one of the greatest existential perils it has ever faced: the exploding federal debt.

Instead of leading off the year with bold plans to reform Medicare and Social Security – the places where the cuts will eventually have to be made – he produced a budget with token deficit reduction and then had to be dragged by Republicans into bandaging the problem with cuts in discretionary spending that will, BTW, destroy our ability to defend ourselves.

This is where the backslapping problem comes in. Reforming Medicare and Social Security would have taken a lot of it.

When starting this website last year, I read up a little bit on marketing. One of the theories I bumped into was that people in many cases have already made their decisions about, say, what they want to read or buy. The way to market something to them is not to convince them to take something they don’t want, but to confirm them in their view – give them the information they need to make a decision they already want to make.

Similarly, Obama starts with the view that he doesn’t want to engage with Congress. He despizes the schmoozing,

He doesn’t want to make fake friends.

And so his actions this year were merely confirmation for his pre-held conviction. He sought no grand compromise, reluctantly engaged with Republicans only when they threatened to shut down the government or breach the debt ceiling, and then resorted to smacking them around with political vitriol, a practice that will continue now that the campaign season is here.

Because what’s the opposite of back slapping?

Face slapping. Now there’s something this Chicago pol enjoys.

40 Responses to Obama’s Missing Ingredient

  1. Whaddyamean he doesn’t like “back slapping?” I know you mean it figuratively, but have you ever noticed that all he does is slap people on the back. It’s one of the most annoying habits he has in my opinion (freudian I guess) – not to mention tacky.

  2. I don’t think the NYT got it correct. Obama does like to schmooze….with his supporters. He thrives on his campaign events where he feeds off their adoration. Young women adore him. Just look at the new WH Flickr photos just posted.

    He loves to backslap, touches people continually and talks/lecture to his supporters. In these environments he is extrememly social.

    Anotherwords, you’ll get the love from Obama if you love him. It’s the narcissism.

    Friends? Where are his friend’s personal stories about Obama as a youth, in college, and going forth. They don’t exist. I agree he is loyal to his nonexisitent friends.

      • I remember the old days in Congress (I am old and I was up there) where members from different parties ranked each other out on the floor, then left the well, shook hands, and went to a private office for bourbon and branch (they have little nooks here and there in addition to their main office). Now it’s all blah blah, challenge, response, sound bite, snipe..

        As for the president having real friends–he just doesn’t read as a warm, loyal guy to me–but I have never met the man. Certainly he is NOT funny. I am standing by that one.

      • Schmoozing has negative connotations. I consider it more of cultivating mutually beneficial relationahips. I know a lor of people that I really do not care much about their personal lives, nor do they care about mine. But we have business relationships and work well together in that regard. I like to keep my personal life seperate from my business life.
        The fact Obama will not cultivate mutually beneficial relationships speaks to his general apathy toward his job, his laziness, and his arrogance.

  3. But look who his real friends are that he does smooze with…like the one on the golf course who had been arrested for soliticting a lady of the night….Valerie Jarrett? Axe? Chicago thug that is now their mayor?
    He never tried to reach out to the folks who could have helped him.

    • As an Illinois resident, let me say that Rahm is THRIVING as king of Chicago, playing hardball to the hilt, and loving every minute of it.
      Team Obama will be looking to pick up pointers wit their election headquarters in Chi-town.

  4. Actually, BO’s ‘friends’ are more in tune with being a “forgetaboutit family” member. And this is certainly evident in the political style he and those steering the campaign ship pursue while he is on the golf course worrying about how to sound like a middle-class Joe with the aid of Mr. TelePrompter.

  5. Obama also hates negotiating. Whether this is because of ideology, lack of business experience, personal preference or a combination of these factors as well as others I don’t know

  6. He has only followers blinded by his eutopian ideal America. Sure he’d slap you on the back and just as easily stab you there should not tow the line.
    This is a cold, phony narcisstic man who threw his Grandmother under the bus
    friends I think at your own peril. He is dangerous and has no soul or moral
    compass pure evil to me.

  7. Keith, what do we know about Obama’s ‘friends’ prior to his fateful meeting with Valerie Jarrett? According to most reports Obama was a loner during his Harvard days – preferring to spend more time at home than on campus. So far, no one has come forth with anecdotes or claiims of friendship.

    I have a pre-conceived theory that he was basically a drifter – until he met up with MOOshelle. The Daley machine evolved into the Obama machine…and the rest is history. He has one talent – he is an opportunist and an organizer ‘extraordinaire’! A ruthless narcisissit! Everything about him is ‘fake’ and so are his friends. He is only capable of loving himself.

  8. The whole world operates on social contact between people who have similar interests and goals. Being “friends” is a lot different than being “friendly” and MrO’s aloofness towards the very people he needs to further his agenda is why he appears weak and incompetent as President.

    MrO is a mean and little man who doesn’t have the social skills to hold his own with the professional politicians who see right through his ‘smartest man in the room’ veneer. He’s not smart, he’s not nice and we know it.
    He insults or ridicules his opponents, but only when they can’t defend themselves. He ridicules and demeans his wife in public with his biting comments about her eating habits. The smoke and mirrors that swept him into a position way beyond his capability has been blown away.

    As for the reporter who doesn’t want “fake friends” and writes his opinions to suit a target audience, he or she isn’t much of a friend to anyone, either.

    • Obama will not maintain the opportunity to be-little Newt Gingrich

      when they debate certain issues. Gingrich is too smart for Obama,

      and Obama knows it. Obama, in reality, fears confrontation with

      Gingrich, on any level and any issue. Newt Gingrich is “THE”,

      smartest man in the room, denying another mythe of the Obama

      fabrication, if you follow. Obama and his collusion with the traitor

      Hungarian, George Soros, in the words of Daffy Duck: are despicable.

      • Absolutely right. Axelrod is doing everything in his power to make sure Newt is not the candidate – with help from the Republican “elite”. Newt would be the best candidate, hands down. No one makes it to 60 years old and over without baggage. No one. Newt’s has been plastered in the media and exagerrated to the hilt. Obama would be reduced to cowering in a corner in the fetal position, drooling and sucking his thumb after a debate with Newt. A visual that get’s me smiling every time.

  9. Obama was a media creation and never could understand why. Do you suppose good media provided them better access and, after 8 years of traveling to Crawford, wanted a change of scenery?

    Had he been vetted as hard as Sarah Palin, we may have been singing a different tune today.

    • I wish he’d stop blaming Republicans for the country’s problems, reward failure and punishing success. He had a full DEM majority for his first two years and did nothing. When the Dem congress took control in 2006 is when the deficit starting blowing out of control. So I don’t fully blame Bush either.

      My fear, either Obama is the dumbest money manager in the world, or he’s doing this on purpose !?

      • He’s not smart he can with his brain dead blind followers get away with
        the blame Bush forever. There is hardly any MSM that won’t carry his water and cover for all he does we will never know. Very dangerous mix. Oh I believe this was his plan all along take us down to remake us
        in his image of America.

        • Beck tried to warn us and he had the goods and blackboards ! to back it up, he still got thrown off Fox. (though laughing all the way to the bank now with his little internet enterprise….more subscribers than watch OWN and Current….combined)

          Cloward and Piven also taught at Columbia when Obama was there. Oh wait, those records are sealed !

  10. A friend is a friend until he/she is not a friend anymore. Most of those around Obama are lackeys looking for the next handout. Surprise, surprise Nancy Pelosi is in Hawaii as well. Perhaps they will have a private interlude on some quiet beach at the government’s ( our) expense.MD

  11. Oh, wise pundit, while I agree with some of your points on this matter, I think there is a deeper psychological issue at hand.

    It’s not that Obama doesn’t want to make “fake friends” but rather he knows not how to make or be a friend, unless it serves his purpose. While not a psychologist, and having never played one on TV, I do know a bit about human behavior.

    Take a child from a racially mixed marriage(?) who is born in a time when such things were an aberration, throw in abandonment by his polygamist father, drag him half way around the globe so that his mother can pursue her academic studies and another man, inculcate him in a society that denigrates women, idolizes violence, has limited or no respect for human rights, and then shuffle him off to his white Christian (nominal or otherwise) grandparents after having been taught for several years in an Islamic culture, and you have a recipe for a deeply disturbed and emotionally stunted person.

    His bouncing around the globe, as it were, did not make Obama a man of international repute, but rather a boy who is still trying to find his roots. The reason no one comes forward to say they were a friend of his during his formative years is probably due to his total lack of social interaction. He has lived as a loner and outsider for the majority of his formative years, and therefore does not have the ability to make true and lasting friendships. As the old saying goes, “To have a friend, you must be a friend.”

    Had it not been for Michelle, Obama would have probably lived out his life in relative obscurity, cursing whatever higher power he believes in for not allowing him to have been a success. In many ways, he is a lot like Clinton. Had it not been for Hillary, wild Willie would probably never have been elected president. Both of these men have come from highly dysfunctional family units, and they are showing their dysfunction through their personal and policy decisions. Unfortunately, it is the American people that are paying the price. Perhaps instead of spending $4 million on a vacation to Hawaii, he should spend $300 a week to talk to a shrink.

  12. I don’t get the same take on his standoffish behavior. My take is more of that he doesn’t like to be around people who disagree or don’t have the same ideology as he does. He is too thin-skinned to take any criticism. He’d rather be around those that think like he does and who think he’s the cat’s meow. Other points of view or truths that my conflict with his ideology are not welcomed. He lives in an unrealistic world. His actions are proof of this. His world is narrow and ideological. He ignores anything that conflicts with his goals – another reason why America is in so much trouble. He ignores the majority voice of the American people. i.e., the healthcare debacle. He and the liberal democrats completely ignored the calls, the emails and the crys of the American people and rammed that POS down our throats AGAINST our will. He is protected by the media and never has to answer for his actions that are against the majority voice. He couldn’t “stand the heat” but, unfortunately for America, he won’t get out of the fire – he’d rather start it, then run away from it like he is above it all. In my book – that’s called a coward.