I had a go at Dowd a few weeks ago over a deeply silly column of hers in which she argued that if Obama were only either scarier or (perhaps paradoxically) nicer, e.g. drinking more bourbon with GOP senators, he'd have gotten the six votes he was shy of a successful background check bill.
Now she is back with a new variant today, but this one actually makes more sense. Today's critique is that he isn't even nice to Democrats; his own people. This, I think, does matter. The idea that he could have gotten six more GOP votes with more back-slapping is preposterous. But the critique that Obama appears to hate the small gestures and rituals of politics, and that that hatred in turn makes his own side less likely to rally around him, strikes me as an entirely different argument, since fellow Democrats should indeed be highly susceptible to presidential charm offensives. Dowd:
By 2011, Obama’s insularity was hurting him with Democratic donors, elected officials and activists, Alter writes, adding: “Democratic senators who voted with Obama found that their support was taken for granted. Many would go two or even three years between conversations with the president, which embarrassed them (constituents were always asking about their interactions) and eventually weakened Obama’s support on the Hill.”
It was not only powerful committee chairs and many Cabinet members who rarely spoke personally to the president, Alter notes. It was only in his second term that the Obamas invited the Clintons over for dinner in the White House residence.
She quotes Pete Rouse as having told Jon Alter for his new book that Obama doesn't give a crap about presidential birthday letters to supporters and their children because "he wouldn't particularly care if he got one."
Alter still thinks Obama can change. Well, he's been inside, working on these books, and I have not. But I'm not so sure. He's pretty hardwired in these ways. I've heard the same kinds of things from a number of donors, movers and shakers, senators, House members--Big O is just not a hale fellow well met type. If he ever finds himself under serious attack, like impeachment level attack, Democrats and libs will rally to him out of loathing of the other side. But anything short of that--needing Democrats' loyalty on legislation or nomination fights--could be greatly helped if he tried to be nicer to his allies.