This president is not a misanthrope, exactly. But neither is he what we used to call in the 70s “a people person.” He has all the friends he thinks he’ll ever need, is not interested in making new ones, has limited time for the grip and grin that is the lifeblood of retail politics, and is almost certainly the most introverted president of modern times.
Look: I understand. The White House holiday-entertaining schedule is a horrifying ordeal. Spending three or four hours at a time shaking hands is surely a nightmare. Some 50,000 people troop through the White House every December (including at open houses the First Couple does not attend). In Bill Clinton’s day, the parties were so large and the receiving lines moved so slowly that some guests skipped the photo op for another bite of shrimp cocktail or another spin around the dance floor. What president wouldn’t rather be curled up with a good book or a family movie, especially a president with children as young as Sasha and Malia Obama?
But the president’s party protocol is nevertheless a revealing insight into his political style, and an example of the troubles he has had “connecting,” not only with angry old white men but with the capital’s warring tribes. If Lincoln could hold near-constant public receptions during the depth of the Civil War (including one on the night his young son, Willie, lay dying upstairs), surely Obama could put himself out a teeny bit more. Have fewer parties, but shake more hands? Invite some guests only every other year? What state legislator or city councilman, what county chairman or advocacy-group leader, wouldn’t kill for 15 or 30 seconds of the president’s time, once every year or so?