Although Obama is traditional and cautious in most respects, he moves to his own unusual rhythms. He has confidence in doing things his own way. At times he appears a bit slow to act, or detached, or overconfident, or unfocused or behind the curve. And then something happens, and all of a sudden he is not behind but ahead, and what seemed foggy becomes clear. He rationally figures out the traps and works around them in his own fashion. The trendy thing now is to give all credit for his reelection to his technologically precise and proficient ground-game-changing campaign team. It certainly worked wonders. But in the end, it always comes back to the nature of the man at the top. If he ran in some respects a disappointingly small campaign, it was in the service of something larger.
Some people never grow or adapt but only become more of what they were, ending up caricatures of themselves. Throughout his life, Obama has shown a capacity to adapt, to learn from his experiences and mistakes and to become something more than he was. I don’t expect him ever to bridge the country’s ideological divides, or to get the people who hate him to stop hating him and realize that what they see as a threatening otherness is actually a quintessential American story. I do not expect that his efforts to find middle ground on the “fiscal cliff” and the federal deficit will satisfy right or left. Nor do I expect him to fully open up to the press; his administration is far too closed and controlling. But I do have a sense that he will keep working his way through problems, rationally, one after another, until his accomplishments leave a lasting mark in history.