On the evening of Tuesday, June 30, 2009 — just five months into his administration — Barack Obama invited a small group of presidential historians to dine with him in the Family Quarters of the White House. His chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, personally delivered the invitations with a word of caution: the meeting was to remain private and off the record. As a result, the media missed the chance to report on an important event...
.... Judging from Mr. Obama’s questions, one subject was uppermost in his mind: how could he become a “transformational” president and bend the historic trajectory of America’s domestic and foreign policy?
In the wake of the shellacking the Democrats took in the midterm elections in 2010, Mr. Obama held a second dinner with the historians, which was devoted to the question of how he could “reconnect with the public.”
A third dinner took place in July 2011, shortly after Mr. Obama and his team botched the budget-deficit negotiations with Congress, and the United States government lost its Triple-A credit rating for the first time in history. It revolved around the theme “the challenge of reelection.”
That fall, I spoke to one of the historians who attended all three of the dinners. We met in a restaurant where we were unlikely to be seen, and our conversation, which lasted for nearly two hours, was conducted under the condition of anonymity.