year — and, just as smoothly, unpack the racial irritations gnawing at many whites. Towhat extent does he share any of those emotions? The doctor never exactly says.Consciously or unconsciously, Obama has been honing this technique for years. Duringhis time at Harvard Law School in the 1980s, the student body was deeply divided. In oneheated debate, Obama so adroitly summarized the various positions without tipping hisown hand that by the end of the meeting, as Professor Charles Ogletree told onenewspaper, "everyone was nodding, Oh, he agrees with me."He has been called a window into the American psyche. Or you might say he's a mirror— what you see depends on who you are and where you stand. Obama puts it this way: "Iserve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project theirown views." But those metaphors all suggest that he is some sort of passive instrument,when in fact his elusive quality is an active part of his personality. It's how you square thefact that Obama once wrote the most intimate memoir ever published by a future nomineeyet still manages to avoid definition. At his core, this is a deeply reserved andemotionally reticent man. Consider this anecdote from Dreams from My Father: as ayoung man in New York City, he lived next door to an elderly recluse "who seemed toshare my disposition." When he happened to meet his neighbor returning from the store,Obama would offer to carry the old man's groceries. Together, the two of them wouldslowly climb the stairs, never speaking, and at the top, the man would nod silently"before shuffling inside and closing the latch ... I thought him a kindred spirit," Obamaconcludes.Both his rhetorical style and his ingrained disposition tend to obscure rather than reveal.This is how Obama remains enigmatic no matter how much we see of him. As thecampaign enters its last chapter, it may not be enough for him to say, as he often does,"This election is not about me ... this campaign is about you." Supporters and opponentsalike want a clearer picture of Obama, and they are selecting elements of his words,policies, public record and biography to shape their clashing interpretations. Those piecesof Obama are also open to interpretation, because so few of them are stamped from anyfamiliar presidential mold: the polygamous father, the globe-traveling single mother, theweb of roots spreading from Kansas to Kenya, friends and relatives from African slumsto Washington and Wall Street, and intellectual influences ranging from AlexanderHamilton to Malcolm X. Four of the faces of Obama pose various threats to his hopes forvictory. The fifth is the one his campaign intends to drive home, from the convention inDenver right to Election Day.
1. The Black Man
Henry Louis Gates Jr. once wrote an essay on the life of writer Anatole Broyard, thelight-complexioned son of two black parents who lived his life passing as a white man."He wanted to be a writer," Gates explained, but "he did not want to be a Negro writer. Itis a crass disjunction, but it is not his crassness or his disjunction ... We give lip service tothe idea of the writer who happens to be black, but had anyone, in the postwar era, everseen such a thing?"