What's in Obama's head?

By Steven Levingston

As President Obama tackles the big issues on all fronts - war, economy, health care, Republican electoral momentum - now more than ever it would be instructive to know what's really in his head.

A new book, "Inside Obama's Brain" (Portfolio, $24.95), offers to provide just that.

Author Sasha Abramsky tells us right away what his book is not: it's not a biography, not political history, not inside-the-Beltway prattle. He promises to drill into the thought processes of the president revealing, one can hope, how a year into his term Obama will reason and finesse his way through the messy job of governing. "My book," Abramsky writes "is intended as a psychological profile writ large, a peeling back of the veneer, a look into the mind of a man who now sits atop the peak of power."

Tantalizing indeed.

To draw his inside-the-cranium portrait, Abramsky says he interviewed nearly 100 people whose own paths crossed with Obama's: friends, classmates, mentors, next-door neighbors. The author did not, however, talk to the subject of this pyschological profile.

The first hint that the book gets closer to the aura than the gray matter is in the chapter titles: Focus; Self-Confidence; Poise; Thinking Outside the Box - all qualities no doubt Obama will need now to push his agenda. But those titles and the chapter contents leave one thirsting for a real answer to the question: Who is President Obama?

The result of Abramsky's exploration is lots of familiar-sounding conclusions distilled from previously published material, including Obama's own books, mixed with unsurprising perceptions from the interviews. We are re-introduced to Obama's "steely calm," to his "presence" to his "wide-ranging, intellectual mind."

Perhaps it's just too soon to know who this man really is. By the end of the book, Abramsky admits he hasn't discovered any one thing that explains the question he "set out to answer: What makes Barack Obama tick?" Obama, he realizes, is - guess what? - "a powerfully driven man, ambitious, intelligent, and charming."

Unable to crack the president's psychology, Abramsky turns to assessing the reasons for Obaman's success in the 2008 election. His explanation: there was "a unique confluence of events that cumulatively showed the existing political order to be akin to the fabled emperor with no clothes," which sounds a lot like an attempt at the political history the author promised not to give us.

Finally, Abramsky leaves psychology for mythology. Before he even took the oath of office, Abramsky writes, Obama "had become, in short, a living legend."

With the 2008 election far behind him, the legend has now collided with reality, and we'll have to wait to see how he grapples with it before history has enough to give us a genuine psychological portrait.

By Steven E. Levingston |  January 27, 2010; 11:17 AM ET Politics , Steven Levingston
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Q: "What's in Obama's head?"
A: "I'm AWESOME!!!"

Posted by: John74 | January 27, 2010 5:12 PM

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