He was raised in the United States and Indonesia by his mother and his grandparents after his father moved away and his parents divorced.
“If the talk began to wander, or cross the border into familiarity, I would soon find reason to excuse myself,” he wrote. “I had grown too comfortable in my solitude, the safest place I knew.”
In Washington, Obama mostly avoids parties and restaurants, except for occasional date nights with his wife or, recently, small dinners with campaign volunteers and contest winners. He hasn’t joined a church, though several tried to woo the first family. He relaxes by playing golf, but usually with the same young aides.
He hosts the requisite parties at the White House, though not always with much enthusiasm: Artist Chuck Close said in a Sept. 12 New Yorker article that he was told he had eight minutes to photograph Obama for a portrait he was painting. Instead, Close said, the president complied happily for more than hour, despite pleas from his aides that he needed to leave.
“Finally,” Close told the magazine, “he said that there was a picnic for Congress in the White House backyard.”
Martha Joynt Kumar, a Towson University political science professor who studies the presidency and keeps detailed records of Obama’s news media interactions, said Obama might have been a loner from the start. She noted that’s unlikely to change as time alone and with family becomes even more rare in the glare of the office.
“Obama may be a loner in terms of his web of Washington relationships, but remember he was not here that long before he came into office,’’ she said. “The White House is no place to make friends. People want things from you, and you cannot rely on them to act in the interest of anyone other than themselves.”
Bill Clinton, the last Democratic president, was nothing like Obama. He spoke to everyone in a room, called lawmakers personally and rewarded donors with invitations to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom. More recently, Republican George W. Bush, who liked heading to bed early, wasn’t especially fond of schmoozing either, though he was known for bestowing nicknames on lawmakers and aides, and an affinity for wooing people over one-on-one conversations.
A former constitutional law professor, Obama appears to prefer policy over politics, even as he wields a fiercely competitive spirit.
Those who know him say he’s more comfortable listening to advisers and reading briefing books before relying on a small core group to help him make decisions. The advisers are mostly transplants who moved from Chicago with him and former Clinton aides, including Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod, who runs Obama’s re-election campaign from Chicago. On the night of the second presidential debate, as the pressure was on for the president to boost his performance, he turned to longtime friends – Mike Ramos, a businessman and friend from Hawaii, and Marty Nesbitt, the head of a real estate investment company in Chicago.
“Anybody who reaches the height of the presidency has a close group of people to rely on,” Burton said.
Obama prefers to leave the schmoozing to Vice President Joe Biden, a former senator with a knack for networking, or more recently Clinton, after the two repaired what had been a testy relationship during the Democratic primary campaign in 2008.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., a top Obama surrogate, described the president as focused: He’s usually all business, with not a lot of small talk.
“As he should, he’s focused on the issues,” Van Hollen said. “When you’re talking to the president you’re getting down to business.”