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The presumably white “counties around Chicago” did not want their taxes burned on welfare, but they didn’t want them wasted on a bloated Pentagon budget either.

Inner-city black families, no matter their perils, understood “that government alone can’t teach our kids to learn …

These were not like press conferences—the president would speak in depth and with great familiarity about a range of subjects. He talked about the brilliance of Le Bron James and Stephen Curry—not as basketball talents but as grounded individuals.

Once, I watched him effortlessly reply to queries covering everything from electoral politics to the American economy to environmental policy. I thought of George Foreman, who once booked an exhibition with multiple opponents in which he pounded five straight journeymen—and I suddenly had some idea of how it felt to be the last of them. I asked him whether he was angry at his father, who had abandoned him at a young age to move back to Kenya, and whether that motivated any of his rhetoric.

Nothing in that time suggested that straight talk on the facts of racism in American life would have given him surer footing. In his second term, I’d written articles criticizing him for his overriding trust in color-blind policy and his embrace of “personal responsibility” rhetoric when speaking to African Americans. He would invoke his identity as a president of all people to decline to advocate for black policy—and then invoke his black identity to lecture black people for continuing to “make bad choices.” In response, Obama had invited me, along with other journalists, to the White House for off-the-record conversations. I was discombobulated by fear—not by fear of the power of his office (though that is a fearsome and impressive thing) but by fear of his obvious brilliance.

It is said that Obama speaks “professorially,” a fact that understates the quickness and agility of his mind.

The people in these lines were, in the main, black, and their humor reflected it.

The brisker queue was dubbed the “good-hair line” by one guest, and there was laughter at the prospect of the Secret Service subjecting us all to a “brown-paper-bag test.” This did not come to pass, but security was tight.This assessment was born out of the president’s innate optimism and unwavering faith in the ultimate wisdom of the American people—the same traits that had propelled his unlikely five-year ascent from assemblyman in the Illinois state legislature to U. He addressed himself to his “fellow Americans, Democrats, Republicans, independents,” all of whom, he insisted, were more united than they had been led to believe.America was home to devout worshippers and Little League coaches in blue states, civil libertarians and “gay friends” in red states.I arrived slightly early and sat in the waiting area.I was introduced to a deaf woman who worked as the president’s receptionist, a black woman who worked in the press office, a Muslim woman in a head scarf who worked on the National Security Council, and an Iranian American woman who worked as a personal aide to the president.The formidable GOP strongholds of Georgia and Texas were said to be under threat. He had been light on his feet in these last few weeks, cracking jokes at the expense of Republican opponents and laughing off hecklers. Then he flashed the smile that had launched America’s first black presidency, and started dancing again.

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