President Obama's Traveling Salon

What does a lame duck President do with his time when he’s not raising money or giving speeches about various crises around the world? He holds dinner parties with important people to talk about important things.

The NY Times reports on the President’s increasingly busy social calendar. During a trip to Paris last month he held a second dinner after the official dinner with President Hollande. In attendance were Susan Rice, Valerie Jarrett and one of the President’s college friends who is currently CEO of a professional tennis organization.

On a more recent trip to Italy the President asked the ambassador to arrange a dinner party. Within a day the chairman of Fiat, a particle physicist working in Geneva and an architect from Genoa all arrived for a party that lasted until midnight. The ambassador’s wife told the NY Times the discussion that night covered, “the importance of understanding science, the future of the universe, how sports brings people together.”

All of this intellectual stimulation is a relief from a job which requires the President to handle less airy and more immediate matters, such as the situation in Israel, Iraq or on the border. Those issues aren’t raised at the President’s dinners we’re told. One of Obama’s guests at the dinner in Italy tells the Times, “He is a curious man, and even the president of America is sometimes struggling to explore, to understand, to search.”

This being the Times there is also the requisite slight of Republicans in Washington. The author writes, “Freewheeling, with conversation touching on art, architecture and
literature, the gatherings are a world away from the stilted meals Mr.
Obama had last year with Senate Republican leaders at the Jefferson
Hotel in Washington.” Implication: Dull Republicans aren’t interested in art, architecture or literature.

So the image we’re presented is an intellectually curious President who feels stifled in Washington and needs stimulation. A less charitable reading of all this might be that the President seems bored and not terribly focused on his job at this point. But no hint of criticism or concern appears in the NY Times.