Editor's note: Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, was a political consultant for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992 and was counselor to Clinton in the White House.
Paul Begala says presidents need to keep in touch with their friends outside the White House.
(CNN) -- The first time I walked into the Oval Office my knees nearly buckled.
I was overwhelmed by the history -- to think that Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt worked here; that John F. Kennedy hid candy for his son in that very desk; that LBJ strategized with MLK in front of that fireplace.
And then the newly-inaugurated President Clinton shook me gently from my reverie. "Don't let it get to you, Paulie," he said as he put his arm around me. "This is the crown jewel of the federal penal system."
I suspect President-elect Obama knows how he feels. In a recent interview he expressed a strong desire to stay in touch with the real world.
"I'm still clinging to my BlackBerry," he told CNBC. "They're going to pry it out of my hands." He does not want to succumb to the isolation of the presidential bubble. I applaud that. And so I'm on his side in the Battle of the BlackBerry.
Presidents can stay in touch with their pre-presidential friends, but they have to work at it. In the pre-BlackBerry age, presidents gave their friends their special, secret ZIP code, listed their names with the White House operator, with instructions to put the calls through, even gave out the cell phone numbers of close aides.
The president-elect said his staff has cited both security and legal concerns, and I'm sure they're real. But one of the many strengths Barack Obama brings to the White House is that up till now he's led a pretty normal life.
As president he'll need to hear from the folks who made it normal: the point guard on his state championship basketball team or a gifted student from his days as a law professor, or better yet one of the scores of folks he helped through tough times when he was a community organizer.
As a senior White House official, it was part of my job to resist the temptation to become a Praetorian Guard, but rather to keep the president in touch with what he called "walkin' around people."
President-elect Obama is wise to want to keep in touch with them as well, even as he's riding around in that presidential limo.
Here's hoping Barack Obama wins the Battle of the BlackBerry.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Paul Begala.
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