Obama the loner

In fact, Obama himself has made it plain that he has limited interest in the performance-art aspects of modern politics. “I am wired in a different way than this event requires,” he told disappointed aides during his stubbornly lackluster preparation for the second debate, according to Double Down: Game Change 2012, by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann.

Just how someone wired the way Obama is got so far in politics remains a puzzlement. His aloneness is generally regarded as springing from a surfeit of self-confidence, a certitude that he really does know best. But at least one former senior administration adviser has argued that the trait springs from the opposite source: a basic insecurity on the president’s part, one that keeps him from surrounding himself with strong intellectual rivals in either the White House or the Cabinet. Competent they may be, but with Hillary Clinton gone there is no figure of unquestioned stature. He has quietly purged from his inner circle those most likely to stand up to him, and barely suffered the manful efforts of his latest chief of staff, McDonough, to encourage him to reach out to the remaining slivers of the Republican sanity caucus in Congress.

Whatever the origin of Obama’s penchant for solitude, he shows no sign of changing his ways, which means he does not believe he is doing anything wrong. Obama’s stubbornness has unquestionably benefited him in the past, when he stuck to unpopular programs—from the auto bailout to the economic stimulus plan—that ultimately bore fruit (and, in the case of the Detroit bailout, may have helped save his re-election). Obama has always insisted that he is playing a long game. The problem is that when everyone else in Washington is still playing a short game, the president sometimes has to play on their board.

Whether Obama’s unyielding above-it-all approach can sustain him in the inevitable shoals of a second term remains very much in doubt.