Every new president steps into the Oval Office facing a large in-box of public expectations. These are the result of issues that were on the public’s mind during the presidential campaign and the campaign’s response to them, the issues that the candidates stressed and their promised solutions, and the public’s mood-an emotional barometer of their experience during the years of the president in office at the time of the campaign. Elections are generally prospective in that they are focused on the future, but that prospective stance contains a retrospective element. People are either satisfied with the past and want more of it, or they want a break with the past and vote for “change,” however the winning candidate defines that. Either way, it is the past that helps define the future. The same is true of the president himself. The Obama narratives are by now an

often-told story. As a result, there is now widespread acceptance of a great deal of conventional wisdom about this president. He is cool, charismatic, slightly detached, deliberative, highly intelligent, verbally fluent, and a pragmatist more interested in policies that work than in scoring ideological points. All true, but only to a point. Obama is emotionally cool and detached. He is more likely to know your position than feel your pain. But he is also a president who has proved to be quite at home with harsh personal and political characterizations of those who hold different policy views. The president may be cool, but he is often not temperate. The president presents himself as deliberate and methodical in his decision-

making and judgments. And he definitely can be, but there is much more there than conventional wisdom allows. The president can also be impatient and ambitious; two core characteristics that sometimes trump his deliberativeness. Moreover, the president is an enormous risk taker, a quality that few have mentioned or analyzed. Yes, the president is very intelligent and fluent in policy nuance, but he has also

adopted a personal and political Rorschach approach of strategic ambiguity. This has

left allies and opponents alike wondering just who is the real Barack Obama? That question is not likely to be answered without understanding what really motivates this unusual and in many ways unique president. Yes, the president did search for his racial identity. But where between an early

history of racial grievance and post-racial identity did Obama finally wind up? And yes, Obama’s book Dreams from My Father is the story of his coming to grips with his absent father. But those factors don’t begin to do justice to the real motives underlying Obama’s quest to become a transformational president. Those motivations, in a word, revolve around the core motivating dynamic of redemption-Obama’s, his father’s, his mother’s, and ours. Yet, there is more to Obama’s presidency than his organizing motivations. He is

a president faced with real policy problems, and he has adopted a leadership style that carries with it many consequences that have yet to be discussed, much less analyzed. Is Obama just preternaturally self-confident or arrogant? And where, exactly, did that self-confidence come from and what does it mean for how he approaches his leadership and judgment responsibilities? These, and others, are the questions that frame the analysis that follows.