Howard W French in The National:
Fifteen months into his presidency, we may have acquired an intuitive sense of the answer to this question, and yet Obama remains elusive, like a fidgety subject posing for a daguerreotype. He nods and bobs forward and back, in and out of focus, never altogether fixed.
By now we have all been sufficiently exposed to the Obama act to suspect real method. The recent passage of major healthcare reform presents one case in point: early in his term, Obama placed healthcare at the centre of his domestic agenda, and yet he long seemed content to avoid defining his own parameters for the reform, or even, for that matter, establishing a bottom line.
Along the way, compromise with irredentist Republicans was treated as an almost sacred virtue – maddeningly so for Obama supporters, who began to suspect that he was weak, or worse, fired by insipid conciliatory instincts. Until, at the 11th hour, the president revealed a hitherto unseen mailed fist, and the bill was pushed through Congress without a single supporting vote from an opposition that had been marginalised by its very refusal to negotiate.
The key to this unusual style, if one is to be found, would seem to exist in Obama’s own life story, uncommonly rich in crossed genes and mixed signals. This story has now received its third major retelling, in the form of a massive new biography by the New Yorker editor David Remnick.