The Reggie Love Story
Of all the aides Barack Obama has lost, none will be missed as much as the 'body man' he describes as the little brother he never had
It counts as big news in Washington when a top aide to an American president hangs up his cleats. Reports that the current chief of staff, Bill Daley, is merely paring down his responsibilities a tad caused a minor media tempest just this last week.
The departure of a "body man", in contrast, ought not to matter a jot.
In fact, though, the ripples of the exit of Reggie Love, who has played valet and butler to Barack Obama since the start of his 2008 campaign, may be felt just as acutely in the White House as the changes in his superior's role – if not in policy, then in the rather more tangible area of the President's lifestyle. Mr Love has announced that he is moving on. Next year someone else will have to keep the POTUS train running on time, mind his briefcase and check there is a glass of water on every podium.
Republicans on the Hill and the political wonks need pay no heed. Mr Love has not – as far as we know, anyway – been setting Mr Obama's policy compass all these years. His job has been simple, but of outsized importance: to be at the President's side at all times, particularly when travelling outside the White House, and make sure he lacks for nothing. If the President has a headache, it's the body man who gives him an Aspirin. If he is presented a gift while touching hands in a crowd, it's the body man who relieves him of it.
Presidents have an array of gatekeepers, social secretaries, scheduling aides. But all of them have a body man too. A young Doug Band did it for Bill Clinton when he was in office. He has stayed by his side in the decade since, helping, for instance, to negotiate the job of Secretary of State for Hillary Clinton when Mr Obama took office. The duties of Blake Gottesman for George W Bush included dog-sitting Barney and Miss Beazley. Among fictional body men is The West Wing's Charlie Young, who becomes a kind of surrogate son to Martin Sheen's president. Mr Obama, in contrast, has referred to Mr Love as the "little brother" he has never had.
"I am an extra set of hands, if he ever needs it," Love oncesaid of his responsibilities. "Anything I can do to make life just a little bit easier is, you know, part of my job." He went on to reveal some of things he won't leave the White House without when the President is on the road. "Note pads. Lint – this is like a lint brush ...toothbrush, Scope, cough drops, Tylenol, aspirin, Sudafed."
Occasionally, though, the body man's lot is more than just a mundane bit part in the drama that runs through every administration, because they get closer than anyone, aside from a spouse, to the human threads of a president. It happened between Richard Nixon and Manolo Sanchez, a Cuban immigrant who stayed with his master even after his exile to California. Papers released this week tell of Nixon waking Sanchez one morning in May 1970 to walk with him to the Lincoln Memorial where he found himself debating the Vietnam War with protesters.
Love, still only 30, will not be going with Mr Obama into retirement or even into the headwinds of the about-to-begin 2012 election campaign. Already studying part-time for a business masters degree in Philadelphia, he has decided it's time to break free and to carry a briefcase with his own initials on it.
While Mr Obama is not about to lose a limb, it may seem like it to him for a while. Even the press corps may mourn and not just because he is a nice guy. Whether in a gym, city park or sporting arena, reporters know when Mr Obama is about to appear because there, appearing from behind the black curtains, is Love, all 6ft 5in of him, surveying the scene to make sure everything is in order.
A native of North Carolina, Love is also an athlete. He tried out for some big American Football teams before taking a punt in 2005 on working as an intern for a certain US Senator from Illinois. The men bonded over sport; they shoot hoops together on the White House court. In 2008 it became a matter of superstition for Mr Obama to spend part of every primary day blocking and dribbling with Love.
Love, according to others in the circle of young aides in the White House, has not been without power, sometimes discreetly screening which visitors get to spend time with the Commander-in-Chief and which don't. And in the meantime he imparted a little cool to Mr Obama too, famously stocking his digital music player with a little gentle hip-hop and rap. He has "has downloaded Jay-Z and Lil' Wayne and some of these folks so that I am, you know, not a complete fuddy-duddy", the President once said. He ventured that, in return, he had "hipped him to Aretha Franklin and John Coltrane".
The term "body man" doesn't do justice to what Mr Love became to President Obama. "He is the master of what he does," said the President in a statement yesterday. Factotum might work, except that it implies servitude and is too old-fashioned. Mr Obama perhaps got somewhere close when he coined a special word for what Mr Love meant to him. He called him his "iReggie".
Aides: First Friends
John F. Kennedy was canvassing when he knocked on Powers' door in 1946 and said: "I am a candidate for Congress. Will you help me?" Powers said yes and when JFK entered the White House, he became 'First Friend'. His role included greeting world leaders to making JFK laugh.
Manuel "Manolo" Sanchez
Known as "The Man's man", Cuban-born Sanchez became Richard M. Nixon's valet in 1962. He said the former President's frequent order was: "Manolo, stay where I can see you".
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