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How Did Barack Obama Create Himself?


A Zócalo/KCRW “Critical Thinking with Warren Olney” Event

Barack Obama was president of the United States for eight years, and the broad outlines of his story—his Hawaiian birth, his fatherless childhood, his education at elite institutions, his work as a community organizer and politician in Chicago—are now familiar elements of American history. But even today, Obama retains a remarkable mystique, and can seem unknowable. All leaders must create narratives around themselves, but Obama’s is especially dense and complicated. Who is Barack Obama? How did he construct his own identity—and what did that construction mean for the way he governed America? And in the end, did Obama miss opportunities to build a more durable legacy—particularly around race as well as politics—because of the limits of the narrative he created for himself? David J. Garrow, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama, sits down with Warren Olney at Zócalo to unpack the peculiar origin story of the American president.