The community organizer who works alone

The community organizer who works alone

[Ed. note: Which Barack Obama are we talking about here?]

When Barack Obama arrived in Washington almost five years ago, the universal assumption was that the young president—who had, after all, won office by exploiting every connective tool of the national social and electoral network—would run his White House in sharp contrast to the bunkered, hunkered-down George W. Bush.

Like so much conventional wisdom, that impression has proved dead wrong. In fact, Obama’s resolute solitude—his isolation and alienation from the other players and power centers of Washington, be they rivals or friends—has emerged as the defining trait of his time in office. He may be the biggest presidential paradox since Thomas Jefferson, the slaveholder who wrote the Declaration of Independence: a community organizer who works alone.

In early 2011, when the president’s most trusted political adviser, David Axelrod, left the White House to return to Chicago to run his re-election campaign, Obama made a surprise appearance at Axelrod’s going-away party in a grand apartment off Dupont Circle on a wintry Saturday night. Clad casually in a black jacket, he spoke warmly, even emotionally, of the aide who had done so much to elect him. Then he made his way quickly around a living room full of Cabinet members, other aides, and off-duty reporters, grasping each proffered hand with a single, relentless, repeated greeting: “Gotta go.”

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