“Away from my mother, away from my grandparents, I was engaged in a fitful interior struggle,” he would write in Dreams from My Father. “I was trying to raise myself to be a black man in America, and beyond the given of my appearance, no one around me seemed to know what that meant.”
Give Obama credit for figuring that out, and for rising beyond even the wildest imaginings of his self-reliant youth. If he had chosen to be a novelist or neurosurgeon, an airline pilot or an atomic engineer, the very qualities of self-sufficiency that even some of his strongest supporters find so frustrating would be an unalloyed asset. But in a politician—above all, in a president—such qualities are confounding and, at times, crippling.
“He never needed anyone to affirm his value,” one of his longest-serving advisers told me, “and for that reason, I’m not sure he understands what it would mean to provide a little affirmation to another politician. Because it wouldn’t mean much to him.”
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