President Obama is less skilled than Presidents Clinton and Bush when it comes to buttering up campaign donors. Is this a good thing?

As the Washington fund-raiser sees it, the White House social secretary must spend the first year of an Administration saying, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’ Instead, the fund-raiser says, Obama’s first social secretary, Desirée Rogers—a stylish Harvard Business School graduate and a friend from Chicago—made some donors feel unwelcome. Anita McBride, the chief of staff to Laura Bush, says, ‘It’s always a very delicate balance at the White House. Do donors think they are buying favors or access? You have to be very conscious of how you use the trappings of the White House. But you can go too far in the other direction, too. Donors are called on to do a lot. It doesn’t take a lot to say thank you.’ One of the simplest ways, she notes, is to provide donors with ‘grip-and-grin’ photographs with the President. ‘It doesn’t require a lot of effort on anyone’s part, but there’s been a reluctance to do it’ in the Obama White House. ‘That can produce some hurt feelings.’

Big donors were particularly offended by Obama’s reluctance to pose with them for photographs at the first White House Christmas and Hanukkah parties. Obama agreed to pose with members of the White House press corps, but not with donors, because, a former adviser says, ‘he didn’t want to have to stand there for fourteen parties in a row.’ This decision continues to provoke disbelief from some Democratic fund-raisers. ‘It’s as easy as falling off a log!’ one says. ‘They just want a picture of themselves with the President that they can hang on the bathroom wall, so that their friends can see it when they take a piss.’ Another says, ‘Oh, my God—the pictures, the fucking pictures!’ (In 2010, the photograph policy was reversed; Rogers left the Administration that year.)

“Schmooze or Lose.” — Jane Mayer, The New Yorker

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