"He reads people carefully — he has a columnist mentality"

At the same time, these bull sessions give validation to an oft-heard critique: that Obama prefers the law school salon to the bully pulpit — that he would rather be regarded as smart by the people he regards as smart than be feared by the opposition or seen as effective by the people he governs…

The goal in these get-togethers, participants said, is two-fold: First, the president wants to convince the columnists that he’s right — about the debt ceiling, about health care, about Syria — and that his opponents are wrong.

“The president is thoroughly convinced that the course he has set out is correct, and that his opponents are either wrong-headed or crazy or, in the case of [House Speaker John] Boehner, insufficiently courageous,” said a journalist who has attended off-the-record meetings. “By getting together a group of intelligent people who are going to be writing about him or talking about him, he thinks he can show them how obviously everything he is doing makes sense.”

The second goal is more tactical: By meeting privately with the people who shape national opinion, the president ensures that his points of view will be represented in the media — even if those points of view aren’t directly attributable to him.