Members of Congress could be excused if they are puzzled by the recent run of stories about President Obama's commanding lead over Mitt Romney on the question of who is the more likable candidate. Those who served with Obama in the Senate remember a cool, often aloof, colleague who forged few lasting friendships in his brief tenure. And those who deal with him now see a chief executive who rarely reaches out to them in a personal way and seems to abhor the schmoozing practiced by so many of his predecessors. When asked by Rolling Stone recently about his relationship with Republicans in Congress, the president replied, "It's not frosty. This isn't personal."
That's the Barack Obama that Congress knows: all business, as befitting a man who came to the White House from Congress, where likability is not a big factor in campaigns.
There is a reason that Obama is only the third sitting senator ever to be elected president, after Warren G. Harding and John F. Kennedy. Lawmakers can be very big in their districts or very powerful in their states. But the ways of Capitol Hill — the odd phrases such as calling a female lawmaker "the gentle lady," the weird mental contortions, like "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it" — don't easily translate to a national audience. Rick Santorum is only the latest to discover this. Romney mocked him in the final GOP debate in Mesa, Ariz., for taking "a very tortuous route" to explain his actions when he was in the Senate. Santorum stumbled badly in trying to explain why he voted for No Child Left Behind but now opposes it. "I have to admit I voted for that," he said. "It was against the principles I believed in. But you know, when you're part of the team, sometimes you take one for the team, for the leader."