Presidency Can Feel Isolated, Lonely

President-elect Barack Obama is quickly learning what many former leaders already know: It's lonely at the top.

Obama told CBS' Steve Kroft on "60 Minutes" Sunday evening that he's already been warned by former presidents about the loneliness and isolation that comes with being the man in charge.

"[A]ll of them recognize there's a certain loneliness to the job," said Obama. "That, you know, you'll get advice and you'll get counsel. Ultimately, you're the person who's gonna be making decisions. And I think that, even now, you know, I -– you can already feel that fact."

Obama's lament, for example, not being able to take a walk alone or go out for a haircut, is well-known to inhabitants of the White House, dating back to Abraham Lincoln, who was probably the last president to more or less live among the people without a lot of security.

Richard Norton Smith, a presidential historian and ABC News consultant, said that many presidents, despite the constant company of security personnel and Cabinet members and advisors, have felt lonely and isolated during their time in office.

"There are a number of factors that contribute to the loneliness [of being president]," said Smith. "Ultimately, it's the sense of responsibility.

"The crushing sense of personal responsibility -– think of what this president is up against: a couple of wars and a spiraling economy –- there's no escape," said Smith.

"And that's lonely."

White House Life: Privileged, but Isolated

While Obama told Kroft that he knows the isolation and lack of privacy is part of what he signed up for when he ran for president, combating loneliness has been an issue in almost every administration, Smith said.

Lincoln found solace in humor and theater, said Smith, but with no public opinion polls in existence yet, managed to reach out to the public -– and through the walls of the White House -– to meet with citizens face-to-face.

"Back then you could walk right into the White House –- there were no guards or Secret Service," said Smith. "So, two to three times a week, Lincoln would hold office hours for the general public.

"People would tell Lincoln that he was wasting his time, but he'd always respond that he was taking a 'public opinion bath,'" he said. "In other words, he was bathing in the opinions of others and breaking through that bubble."

But as security threats worsened over history -– the terrorist attacks on 9/11 shut down the road in front of the White House, Pennsylvania Avenue, permanently and suspended tours of the house –- a president's ability to connect with the outside world became even harder, said Smith.

"The cocoon of security has only grown stronger," said Smith. "The post-9/11 world has made the job even more isolated."

Smith attributes the common love most presidents have had for the Camp David retreat a result of the fish bowl life of the White House.

"It's a chance to get out of the bubble," Smith said. "Sure, you go into another bubble [at Camp David] but at least it feels different."

Feelings of loneliness may only get harder when Obama will presumably have to surrender his Blackberry when he takes office in January, subsequently making communication with his friends and family even harder.

The New York Times reported Sunday that while e-mail was less of a presence in everyday life in 2001, President George W. Bush also had to write an e-mail to friends explaining why his in box would be closed.

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