Garry Wills in The New York Times:
In 2004, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky of Illinois attended a White House event wearing the campaign pin of her state’s candidate for the United States Senate. When she saw President Bush do a double take at the one word on her pin, she assured him that it spelled “Obama,” not “Osama.” Bush shrugged: “I don’t know him.” She answered, “You will.” Not long after this, Barack Obama gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, and many people suddenly knew him. It happened so fast that he seemed to come out of nowhere. The truth was more intriguing — he had come out of everywhere. His multiple points of origin made him adaptable to any situation. What could have been a source of confusion or uncertain identity he meant to turn into an overwhelming advantage. As he told a Chicago Reader interviewer in 2000:
“My experience being able to walk into a public-housing development and turn around and walk into a corporate boardroom and communicate effectively in either venue means that I’m more likely to be able to build the kinds of coalitions and craft the sort of message that appeals to a broad range of people.” David Remnick, in this exhaustively researched life of Obama before he became president, quotes many interviews in which Obama made the same or similar points. Accused of not being black enough, he could show that he has more direct ties to Africa than most African-Americans have. Suspected of not being American enough, he appealed to his mother’s Midwest origins and accent. Touring conservative little towns in southern Illinois, he could speak the language of the Kansan grandparents who raised him. He is a bit of a chameleon or shape-shifter, but he does not come across as insincere — that is the importance of his famous “cool.” He does not have the hot eagerness of the con man. Though his own background is out of the ordinary, he has the skill to submerge it in other people’s narratives, even those that seem distant from his own.