Highlights & Takeaways from THE POLITICO’s Profile of President Obama

Bored by the presidency, Obama yearns to become a full-time member of the global cultural elite

• June 2, 2014 12:26 pm


THE POLITICO has published an epic philosophical profile of President Obama, the story of a man whose desire to assume his natural place among the global cultural elite is constantly frustrated by the fact that he is merely President of the United States (and somewhat obligated to serve out the remainder of his second term). He is quite clearly suffering from the Oval Office equivalent of Senioritis.

Read the whole thing, as it contains (probably) some of the most bizarre sentences ever written about a sitting president.

On Obama's supreme confidence:

Obama had always projected the aura of a deeply confident man, someone who on the basis of past experience was justified in assuming that good luck just naturally happened to him.

On how the president and the first lady are coping with (almost) empty nester syndrome:

With his daughters around less, the Obamas are taking fuller advantage of the perquisites of the office, such as squeezing "A Raisin in the Sun" on Broadway into a recent Manhattan fundraising trip.

On Obama's newfound fondness for celebrity soirees:

In a departure from a long practice of keeping his personal circle strikingly tight and rarely lingering at official events, Obama has been hosting star-studded dinners that sometimes go on well past midnight and inviting a few newcomers such as former NBA star Alonzo Mourning into his social sphere.

On the decline and fall of "hope and change":

But a presidency built on finding ways to elude Congress is a remarkable descent for a leader whose second inaugural address was an audacious call to arms for a liberal resurgence. These days his actions reflect a conclusion that his best option is to navigate shrewdly within narrow limits rather than soar above them with transformative politics.

Obama's proposal to dramatically cut carbon emissions via new EPA regulation is described as his "most ambitious effort yet to tackle climate change without help from Capitol Hill." ("Help," in this case, being a euphemism for "Constitutional consent.")

Some other interesting takeaways from the piece include:

1.  Since the State of the Union address in late January, Obama has traveled outside Washington "at least once a week." 

2. Obama frequently emails his chief of staff at 3 a.m. 

THE POLITICO writes that Obama and White House chief of staff Denis McDonough often engage in lengthy "philosophical discussions about the presidency" on almost a nightly basis. McDonough also "checks his BlackBerry when he wakes up in the middle of the night, often to find a stray, late-night thought from the president in his inbox."

3. He's playing more golf, less basketball.

Obama played 46 rounds of golf in 2013, compared to an average of 25-30 in previous years. Meanwhile, he hasn't played basketball since November, in part because he worries about getting injured.

4. Obama is a "hungry tiger."

That's according to McDonough, who told THE POLITICO: "Hungry tiger fights best right now, and [Obama] is one hungry dude."

5. One of the highlights of Obama's second term was a brief trip to The Gap in Manhattan.

In Manhattan to raise money in February, he bounded from his armored limousine and made a beeline for The Gap, his first visit to a clothing store in years, remarking along the way to [Valerie] Jarrett that he missed being on the New York City streets. He picked up sweat shirts for his daughters and was still talking about it weeks later.

"What he cherishes and misses is the serendipity — you don’t know who you’re going to bump into or what they’re going to say," Jarrett said. "He hungers for that. It’s on us to make sure he has more of those moments."

6. Obama wants to live in New York City.

He's an "urban guy," according to the first lady, and the president (a Columbia grad) has previously expressed his desire to "take a walk through Central Park again, and just remember what that feels like." However, Alonzo Morning has reportedly asked Obama to consider moving to Florida after vacating the White House.

7. He follows the NBA playoffs "obsessively," and won't stop talking about it.

The freewheeling conversations that make Obama a cherished dinner companion for athletes and celebrities don’t always apply to his fellow Democrats. Donors who have encountered Obama at recent fundraisers say he’s been quick to steer conversations away from policy and toward sports, particularly the NBA playoffs, which he follows obsessively.

8. Obama no longer feels any guilt about vacationing lavishly on the taxpayer's dime.

Nearly half-way through term number two, the Obama's are "less concerned about the optics of mingling with boldfaced names, and seem to want to take advantage of the presidential perch."

During a trip to Italy in late March, the president arranged for a secret dinner party at the U.S. ambassador’s resident in Rome:

For nearly four hours, Obama and seven others dined on assorted pasta dishes and sipped red wine from Tuscany and a white wine from northeast Italy. The guests — Obama had asked his hosts to put together a dinner of "interesting Italians’’ — included renowned architect Renzo Piano, particle physicist Fabiola Gianotti, Fiat heir John Elkann and his sister, Ginevra.

The piece also recounts how Obama "expressed no regrets" about a recent getaway to South Florida in March, shortly after Russia formerly annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea. "I needed this," Obama told Alonzo Morning and other dinner party guests in Florida. "I needed the golf. I needed to laugh."

9. He can't wait to become a full-time member of the global cultural elite.

Obama's soirees "don't have an agenda," but are designed to "satisfy the president’s intellectual curiosity as he indulges in nuanced conversations about life, ideas and art." Following the dinner in Rome, Obama reportedly complained: "Just last night I was talking about life and art, big interesting things, and now we’re back to the minuscule things on politics."

10. Obama's boys club is still a boys club.

Of the 15 celebrity dinner guests mentioned throughout the piece, only three are women. For example, one previously undisclosed (and apparently all-male) dinner party included Warren Buffet, Apple CEO Tim Cook, U2 frontman Bono, Gen. Colin Powell, and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.

Another dinner/"three-hour discussion" with presidential historians, which Obama reportedly hosts fairly often, included an all-male guest list: Douglas Brinkley, Robert Caro, Michael Beschloss, Robert Dallek, and Kenneth Mack.