... During his recent tour of blue-collar towns, factories and burger joints, Obama has tried to reconcile two pieces of his reputation. He turned down high-paying jobs after graduating from Harvard Law School and became a community organizer, compelled by the experience of growing up with a single mother who sometimes lived on food stamps. He married a woman from a working-class family on the South Side of Chicago, and they rented a walk-up condominium in Hyde Park.
But during his campaign for the presidency, Obama bungled some of his early attempts to connect with blue-collar workers, complaining about the price of arugula at Whole Foods and visiting a bowling alley only to roll an embarrassing score of 37. Some political rivals continue to disparage him as an elitist. Even his aides have sometimes worried that his intellect can be mistaken for condescension and that his composure can seem like detachment.
Those shortcomings were evident last month when Obama invited the previous two presidents to join him at the White House for a news conference about the U.S. relief effort in Haiti. George W. Bush was simple and frank: "Just send us your cash," he said. Bill Clinton spoke without notes and verged on tears as he recalled his personal connection to the devastated country: "I have no words to say what I feel," he said. "I had meals with people who are dead." Obama, meanwhile, spoke from prepared notes, looking all business, glancing to his left and to his right to establish eye contact while standing with perfect posture behind the lectern.
In the two weeks since, Obama appears to have learned from his predecessors' trademark strengths. He has traveled to Ohio, Baltimore, Florida and New Hampshire, each time emphasizing how much he enjoys leaving the strictures of the White House and the divisiveness of Washington. Like Clinton, he has told stories about his own struggles, recalling the 15 years he spent paying off student loans and the "family emergency" that forced him to cash out his 401(k). Like Bush, he has favored simple language and relatable analogies.
On life in Washington: "It can drive you crazy."
On one of the good things about the White House: "You live above the store."
On his relationship with the mayor of Elyria, Ohio: "He and I shared a burger at Smitty's."
On the media: "People with the pens and pencils."
On his reason for visiting a machine company in Baltimore: "I just like gettin' out of the White House, and then I like tooling around companies that are actually making stuff."
So it was little surprise in New Hampshire that, after Obama visited one manufacturing business, he was introduced at his town hall by the owner of another manufacturing business. Obama answered six questions from the crowd at a packed high school gym, referring to "folks" 13 times before aides indicated he had run out of time.
He lingered afterward for five minutes, shaking hands, slapping backs and exchanging hugs while his assistant, Reggie Love, followed to collect business cards and phone numbers. At 3:30 p.m., less than three hours after he landed in New Hampshire, Obama peeled away from the crowd, pointing apologetically at a cadre of aides and Secret Service agents who were suggesting it was time to go. The moment for direct connection had passed. Now it was back to the motorcade, onto his 166th flight aboard Air Force One and off to the White House -- back to a life apart.