One of Maraniss’s minor themes is Obama’s fascination with superheroes. For example, one of Obama’s white girlfriends in New York, Genevieve Cook, sensed that comic book characters might provide a key to understanding Obama’s opaque personality:
Genevieve knew that he harbored faintly articulated notions of future greatness, of gaining power to change things. Once, when they were in Prospect Park, they saw a young boy in costume playing out a superhero role. They started to talk about superheroes, the comics he enjoyed as an adolescent in Honolulu, and intimations of “playing out a superhero life.” She considered it “a very strong archetype in his personality,” but as soon as she tried to draw him out, he shut down “and didn’t want to talk about it further.”
This may offer an explanation of the resilience of Obama’s gigantic ego, “his irrepressible belief that he was the smartest person in the room,” his confidence that he would someday lead millions despite the relentless evidence that even his friends wouldn’t follow him around the corner to get a newspaper.
The comic books provide a whole mythos in which nobodies have fabulous secret identities: mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent is actually Superman, while shy student Peter Parker is Spider-Man.
The irony is striking. Obama opponents have frantically tried to piece together the secret identity of this seeming international man of mystery: Is he Muslim? Kenyan? Arab? Gay? Frank Davis’s son?
But, in contrast, Maraniss goes to great lengths to reassure Obama’s supporters: relax—there’s nothing interesting about Obama!
Yet, all the while, Obama himself was convinced that he wasn’t as boring as his friends assumed. Deep inside, he had a secret identity … President Man!
In general, I think Obama is somebody with some literary skills who half figured out, half stumbled into certain quasi-mythic hopes in American culture that were ripe for exploitation by a Presidential candidate of the proper background.. Thus, I think you can get a better handle on figuring out this guy's sudden rise by thinking about superhero movies, Star Wars, Harry Potter books, Morgan Freeman movies, and other modern mythology.
By the way, I don't see Obama as being particularly brilliant at figuring out that nice white people really wanted to elect a black President who was a nice white person on the inside. As far as we can tell, up through about his 40th birthday, Obama was much more focused on rising up out of the black slums to become mayor of Chicago as his hero Harold Washington had done in the Council War years, an ambition that seems remarkably stupid of him today. It wasn't until about 2001 that he realized that black people were never going to like him more than real black politicians, so his natural career path was as the quasi-black politician for white people to vote for.