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'Prisoners of the White House': how Obama (and other leaders) become isolated

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Carolyn Kaster/AP

(Read caption) President Barack Obama arrives for a White House press conference in the Rose Garden.

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President Obama calls it “the bubble.” President Harry Truman called it “the great white jail.” And President Bill Clinton called it “the crown jewel of the federal penitentiary system.”

They were all talking about the constraints of living in the White House, which is the topic of Kenneth Walsh’s new book, out Wednesday by Paradigm Press. The book is titled “Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America’s Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership.”

In it, Walsh, a veteran White House correspondent for US News and World Report, plumbs the seclusion of life at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. for a long line of US presidents and, along the way, drops some interesting details on Obama’s personal struggle in “the bubble.” 

“Barack Obama has said that the hardest thing about being president is staying in touch with 'the flow of everyday life,'” Walsh tells USA Today. “And he has admitted that one of the biggest mistakes he made during his first term was confining himself to the White House too much.”

The downside, says Walsh, is that the President is constantly surrounded by a “cadre of idolizers,” like Chicago friend and confidante Valerie Jarrett and adviser and chief of staff Denis McDonough.


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