Early in his administration, President/Professor Obama repeatedly referred to “teaching moments.” He would admonish staff, members of Congress and the public, in speeches and in private, about what they could learn from him. Rather than the ideological or corrupt “I’m above the law” attitudes of some past administrations, President Obama projected an arrogant “I’m right, you’re wrong” demeanor that alienated many potential allies. Furthermore, the President concentrated power within the White House, leaving cabinet members with no other option but to dutifully carry out policies with which they had limited input in crafting and might very well disagree. From my experience, this was especially true in the environmental, resources, housing and employment areas. Not by coincidence, these areas have also been responsible for much of the President’s harshest critiques.
One former administration official told me directly that the people in the White House “NEVER TALK TO REAL PEOPLE.” Another former Obama staffer confided to me that it was clear to him that the President didn’t mind giving speeches (lectures), but really avoided personal contact with members of Congress and folks outside the beltway. “He doesn’t seem to derive energy from spending time with regular people the way Clinton did. He rallies to give speeches for the big crowds, but avoids individual contact,” the former staffer recalled. This “arms-length” attitude extends to top decision-makers in the President’s Administration. A senior housing official recently told me that, despite the fact that he was responsible for crafting policies to stem the foreclosure crisis, he had personally never met with a homeowner who had been foreclosed on.