“The reports are not good, disturbing even. I have heard basically the same story four times in the last 10 days, and the people doing the talking are in New York and Washington and are spread across the political spectrum.
“The gist is this: President Obama has become a lone wolf, a stranger to his own government. He talks mostly, and sometimes only, to friend and adviser Valerie Jarrett and to David Axelrod, his political strategist.
“Everybody else, including members of his Cabinet, have little face time with him except for brief meetings that serve as photo ops. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner both have complained, according to people who have talked to them, that they are shut out of important decisions.
“The president’s workdays are said to end early, often at 4 p.m. He usually has dinner in the family residence with his wife and daughters, then retreats to a private office. One person said he takes a stack of briefing books. Others aren’t sure what he does.”
“Beyond the economy, the wars and the polls, President Obama has a problem: people.
“This president endures with little joy the small talk and back-slapping of retail politics, rarely spends more than a few minutes on a rope line, refuses to coddle even his biggest donors. His relationship with Democrats on Capitol Hill is frosty, to be generous. Personal lobbying on behalf of legislation? He prefers to leave that to Vice President Biden, an old-school political charmer.
“Obama’s circle of close advisers is as small as the cluster of personal friends that predates his presidency. There is no entourage, no Friends of Barack to explain or defend a politician who has confounded many supporters with his cool personality and penchant for compromise.
“Obama is, in short, a political loner who prefers policy over the people who make politics in this country work.”
“One veteran Democratic campaign operative put it more bluntly when asked to assess Obama’s approach: ‘He just hates politics and politicians.’…
“The question for Obama is whether the problem is fixable. The level of distrust is significant and long-held. And the timing couldn’t be worse.
“Obama needs the Senate to pass some semblance of the American Jobs Act in order to put pressure on House Republicans to act. But, the combination of the distrust directed at him and the reality — in the words of one senior Democrat — that Senators are ‘turning to their own races’ makes it a tough sell.
“Obama’s ‘a man apart’ image played a major role in his 2008 victory. It may well play an equally large role — in a bad way — in his 2012 re-election campaign.”
“Reid has been Obama’s most important ally in Congress, but the relationship has never been particularly affectionate, even though Reid was one of Obama’s first Senate colleagues to privately urge him to run for president.
“Obama and Reid speak frequently on the phone, but the conversations can be terse. One Democratic source quipped that it’s often a contest to guess who will hang up on the other first. Reid, as it turns out, doesn’t have a habit of saying goodbye when he ends a call…
“‘I think one of the problems with the White House is that it’s been too set apart. It’s been too Chicago-centric, and it needs to get out,’ said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). ‘Clinton didn’t just talk to four leaders, he picked up the phone and he kind of said, ‘I really need your vote on this.”…
“One Democratic aide, whose boss is facing reelection in a swing state, said of Obama: ‘There are no coattails.'”
“People facing adversity can be in one of two broad states. Those in the first case retain confidence in their basic ability to surmount problems because they’ve made a dent against them in the past. They’re in the game, even though the issue remains in the balance.
“But those in the second case are in a completely different situation. They realize they should never have been in the ring in the first place. They’ve lost confidence in being able to solve the problem because everything they’ve tried — in which they had supreme confidence — has backfired. And like a boxer who realizes that all of his moves are revealed by comparison to be clumsy and ineffective against an opponent who is hitting him at will, what succeeds wild optimism is simply forlorn hope: hope that he can last out the bout, the round or just the next flurry.
“Maybe that’s all the President has left. The hope he can edge over the finish line in 2012. He’s done the bus tour; done the joint session of Congress speech. Now he’s down to sending his Occupy demonstrators into Wall Street. If that doesn’t work what does he do next week when the polls fall further, when the clamor to investigate Solyndra and ‘Fast and Furious’ grow louder? What does he do when unemployment soars?
“The Wizard retires to his tower early each night and the lights stay on. But what can he conjure next? What power can he invoke? If he walks alone with only Jarrett and Axelrod to whisper in his ear, what could go wrong?”