Obama’s “Body Man” on What He Taught the President

US President Barack Obama (R) talsk with

Reggie Love and President Barack Obama

The president’s former “body man” opens up about the “White House Ph.D.” he got just by watching Obama in action.

By Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele

An abridged version of this article was published at The Root on March 3, 2015.

Don’t even bother asking Reggie Love about that infamous spades game that he and President Obama reportedly played while Navy Seals were en route to Abbottabad with orders to kill Osama bin Laden.

During an interview with The Root to talk about Reggie’s new book, Power Forward: My Presidential Education, a coming of age story that pivots around the five years he’s worked as a personal aide to Barack Obama, Reggie insisted that the entire spades story was “overblown” in the media.

Reggie wouldn’t divulge any more details about the alleged game (perhaps not wanting to balloon the notion that Obama wasn’t taking the Abottabad mission seriously). But when asked about Obama’s spades game in general, like if the president can, as they say, play his hand, or, whether he underbids (plays it too safe) or overbids (too ambitious), Reggie said that Obama is “a very good spades player.”

“When he’s focusing, he’s good,” Reggie chuckled. “When he’s not, sometimes there’s some slippage.”

“In all fairness, I’m the same way,” the 33-year-old North Carolina native confessed.

Those are the kind of gems that Reggie divulged during our 40-minute conversation about those specials moments that he and the president shared.

Reggie stayed on as Obama’s “body man” during his first term and left in 2012 to pursue a career in business. Now that Love has caught his breath—a bit—and is no longer hopscotching from state to state, and from hotel room to hotel room, making sure Obama is OK and where he needs to be, Power Forward reflects on Reggie’s childhood and his college sports experiences that prepared him for the role. Reggie said he became a much better person having once spent nearly 15 hours a day with Obama.

Yep, 15 hours a day.

One immediately gets a sense of that when hearing Reggie speak. He sounds, well, presidential. I stopped him mid-way through one of his responses and asked if he had undergone media training, or, if he naturally spoke with the same cadence, intonations and a mindfulness that sound eerily like a well-trained politician, or, more specifically, like Barack’s.

“Ohhhh maaan,” Reggie said laughing, “You know my friends tell me the same thing?” he confessed. Apparently, Reggie also developed a habit of gesticulating like the president too.

“I do get made fun of. I never used to have these hand gestures,” Reggie explained.

And then there’s the stuff that Obama learned from Reggie. Putting Obama on to Jay-Z is one of the more well-known examples, but there were substantive lessons too.

reggie and obama

Right after Obama was elected president, then came the task of appointing people to his cabinet and getting them confirmed, a process that Reggie explained was slow and challenging. Some of the people that Obama picked had made semi-controversial comments during press interviews years prior, or, forgot to make mention of a babysitter they had employed on their taxes—fairly innocuous mishaps that people sometimes make, not ever thinking that they’d be asked—by the first African American president no less—to serve in the president’s cabinet.

Reggie described how he advised Obama to chill out and to remember that not everyone always held themselves to the same standards as Obama—a guy who had been engaged in the political process for quite some time at that point.

“You know you can’t hold people to the same expectations that you hold yourself?” Reggie told Obama. “You’ve been on campaigns, you have this down very well and a lot of people didn’t have the same level of scrutiny,” Reggie said to the president-elect.

I then wondered if and how Reggie’s role as Obama’s personal assistant altered his personality? Did he grow leery and suspicious of hanger-on’s who wanted to get close to the guy that’s close to the president? Reggie said that his characteristics are still pretty much intact after the experience. People tell him that he’s still “engaging and approachable,” but, he is very careful about the information the he shares with people.

“You can’t have every conversation with everybody,” Reggie warned.

Reggie made clear that he is well aware, content and at peace with how he will likely never go on to do something “as significant” as work on the campaign that elected the country’s first black president.

“I think that there will not be anything as historically significant that I’ll go on to do,” Reggie said. “I don’t even make decisions around trying to replicate how I was on the presidential campaign that elected the first African-American president.”

When asked if he’d ever run for office, Reggie said that he doesn’t have a “huge desirability today” to get into politics, but did say that regardless of if he ever runs, “being engaged in the process is important.”

“I’m would not try to write the next 32 years of my life.” Reggie vowed to continue to do things that would an impact on his friends, family and community.

If you want to work for Obama, Reggie said, you have to be smart, hardworking, humble, but also have a “decent sense of humor.”

That is best illustrated when Reggie wrote about the time he first bought a pack of peanuts for Obama, having first taken the job and not knowing what kind the then-senator Obama liked. He got into the limo, handed Obama a pack that contained an assortment of peanuts and other snacks. Obama cherry-picked the stuff he wanted and handed the pack right back to Reggie.

“Here you go” Obama said, indirectly teaching Reggie a lesson about paying attention to detail.

“Oh, I got my PhD in the White House. Hands down.”

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