When Barack Obama was a student at Harvard Law School, he was never known as a particularly good debater. In class, if he thought that a fellow student had said something foolish, he showed no forensic bloodlust. He did not go out of his way to defeat someone in argument; instead he tried, always with a certain decorous courtesy, to try to persuade, to reframe his interlocutor’s view, to signal his understanding while disagreeing. Obama became president of the law review—the first African-American to do so—but he won as a voice of conciliation. He avoided the Ames Moot Court Competition, where near contemporaries like Cass Sunstein, Deval Patrick, and Kathleen Sullivan made their names…

Reverend Love grew close to Obama when Obama was a community organizer. He could tell that Obama was never particularly comfortable in the debate format. “He’s better out there by himself,” he said. “His personality has always been kind of contemplative. In that kind of format, when you are contemplative, it makes you seem not as quick on the draw.”