SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- Barack and Michelle Obama have spent more than a thousand days on display before the nation’s eyes, but the personal changes they have undergone can be hard to detect.
Up close, though, those who know the Obamas say they can see an accumulation of small shifts in the president and the first lady since they walked the inaugural parade route four years ago. The man who wanted to change the nature of Washington now warns job candidates that it is hard to get anything done there. Not so long ago, he told others that he did not need a presidential library, a tribute to himself costing hundreds of millions of dollars. Now a former aide, Susan Sher, is quietly eyeing possibilities for him in Chicago.
The first lady who wanted to forge connections with her new city found that even viewing the cherry blossoms required a hat, sunglasses and wheedling the Secret Service. In a demonstration of how difficult it can be for any president or first lady to sustain relationships, Mrs. Obama stopped taking on girls in a mentorship program she founded because of concerns that other teenagers would envy the lucky advisees, according to an aide.
When the president returned from consoling families of teachers and children killed in the Newtown, Conn., massacre — he wept as they handed him photos and told him stories of victim after victim — aides could see in his face the toll of absorbing the nation’s traumas. “This is what I do,” Mr. Obama told them.
“This position has perhaps cost him more on a personal, and even energic, level than most of his predecessors, because he was most entirely an outsider,” observed the playwright Tony Kushner, a supporter who recently dined with Mr. Obama to discuss the film “Lincoln,” for which Mr. Kushner wrote the screenplay.
The Obamas have gained and lost in their four years in the White House, becoming seasoned professionals instead of newcomers, more conventional, with a contracted sense of possibility. They are steady characters, not given to serial self-reinvention. Yet in interviews, current and former White House and campaign aides, donors and friends from Chicago said they could see how the president and the first lady had been affected by their roles.
Describing them, they used phrases like: more confident but more scarred. More isolated. Less hesitant about directing staff members, whether butlers or highest-level advisers. Gratified by re-election, which the Obamas view as sweet vindication, and bloodier-minded when it comes to beating Republicans. And Mr. Obama has learned that his presidency will be shaped by unanticipated events — “locusts,” one former aide called them, for the way they swarm without warning.
Mr. Obama never wanted to be an ordinary politician — there was a time when Mrs. Obama could barely use that noun to describe her husband — and his advisers resist the idea that he has succumbed to standard Washington practice. Some donors and aides give an “if only” laugh at the idea that the couple now follows political ritual more closely: this is a president who still has not had Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton to dinner but holds lunches to discuss moral philosophy with the fellow Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel.
“He thinks about destiny in human terms,” Mr. Wiesel said in an interview.
Still, others say the Obamas have become more relaxed schmoozers, more at ease with the porous line between the political and social, more willing to reveal themselves. They have recently begun inviting more outsiders into their private living quarters, including Mr. Kushner, Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis at the “Lincoln” dinner. At a dinner in late November to thank top campaign fund-raisers, the first couple was like a bride and groom, bantering and traveling from table to table to accept congratulations and good wishes for the years ahead, making sly jokes that guests would not repeat for publication.
Even Mr. Obama’s speech has changed a bit, close observers say. Though he still disdains Washington, he often sounds less like a disapproving outsider and more like a participant. One former aide was startled to hear Mr. Obama use “impact” as a verb, a particular tendency in the capital. Another longtime adviser said he was struck during the 2011 debt ceiling negotiations when Mr. Obama grew offended that House Speaker John A. Boehner did not return his multiple phone calls. The old Barack Obama would have thought the who-calls-whom protocol was stupid, the adviser said, but “the world that he inhabits now is the world of inside-the-Beltway maneuvering.”