Even After 4 Years, Obama Remains a Mystery

Even After 4 Years, Obama Remains a Mystery.



George W. Bush was not an enigma. He had no hidden parts. His father was not mysterious. George H.W. Bush’s life was dedicated to achievement and service. Even Bill Clinton wasn’t unfathomable. Nothing in his presidency — the brilliant highs, the shocking lows — was a substantial, unpredictable departure from his past.

Barack Obama, though, is the most enigmatic president since Jimmy Carter, the most mysterious since Lyndon Johnson, the most unfathomable since Franklin Roosevelt. Political professionals sometimes say of public figures that what you see is what you get, more or less. But with Mr. Obama, what you see is both more and less than what you get.

All this is on display as Mr. Obama runs for president in the same economic crisis that helped catapult him to the White House in the first place. His first term was disappointing; even he implicitly acknowledges that. He is looking to renew his vows with the American people — the 18th-century English pundit Samuel Johnson would call that the triumph of hope over experience, his classic definition of the second marriage — and he’s returned to his most comfortable role: candidate.

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