One of the most striking things I found as I talked with his longtime friends was how Barack Obama’s sense of destiny has always propelled him forward. While it’s not exactly a sense of fatalism, Obama is well aware that God has put him on earth for only a set period of time—and that he has a lot to accomplish during that short period.
As I wrote in 2006, “In the end, Obama might be pushed toward the presidency by what he calls his restlessness. At every stage of his life, he’s reached for the next rung. ‘The more successful Senator Obama has become, the more impatient he’s become,’ says Kirk Dillard, ‘because he knows how much more he can accomplish.’ ”
The walls of Obama’s office in the Hart building are decorated with photos of Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Mahatma Gandhi, Thurgood Marshall, and Muhammad Ali—historical figures Obama cites as his role models in public service, all men called by history at unique moments to change the world. It’s hard not to see that Obama sees himself among that pantheon.
As he told me back then, long before the record-breaking fundraising, the upset win in Iowa, the incredible 75,000-strong cheering crowd in Oregon, and last night’s historic clinching of the Democratic nomination: “I agree with the saying that timing is everything, but I believe that whether you have a good sense of timing is largely determined retrospectively. I am a believer in Woody Allen’s adage that 80 percent of success is showing up.
And so today we have another answer to what was literally the first question at his first press conference as a US senator: “Senator Obama, what is your place in history?” The bigger question today: What will the answer to that question be in January 2009?
If he wins in November, it’s worth considering what his administration and his cabinet might look like, too.
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