Four years ago, on September 11, Barack Obama made the pilgrimage to Harlem to have lunch with Bill Clinton. The meal was the first tête-à-tête between the soon-to-be president and the former one since the unpleasantness of the Democratic nomination contest, and feelings on both sides were still raw and fraught with suspicion. Clinton’s staff had wanted to include a Harlem stroll and photo op as part of the visit, but Obama’s people demurred—a standoff that led each camp to ascribe race-related motives to the other. Eager to avoid awkwardness, Obama kept the conversation focused on governance, not politics. But at the end, Clinton offered to hit the campaign trail for, or with, the nominee. Obama, fighting a stomach bug, said okay and then beat a hasty exit to avoid upchucking on Clinton’s shoes.
Clinton, being Clinton, had plenty of advice in mind and was desperate to impart it. But for the first two years of Obama’s term, the phone calls Clinton kept expecting rarely came. “People say the reason Obama wouldn’t call Clinton is because he doesn’t like him,” observes Tanden. “The truth is, Obama doesn’t call anyone, and he’s not close to almost anyone. It’s stunning that he’s in politics, because he really doesn’t like people. My analogy is that it’s like becoming Bill Gates without liking computers.”