In any case, he comes to this term in a new place as a man and as a politician, not only forged by the experience of his mistakes but also more integrated in character. His will to survive is less likely to contradict his will to do good. That’s likely to be evident in how he handles his larger agenda. This doesn’t mean that he will suddenly become the schmoozer, glad-handing or cajoling, that so many pundits urge him to be; or that he will abandon his tendency to compromise with his opponents, especially on budget cuts, even to the point occasionally of exasperating some supporters; or that he will immediately pursue every progressive issue (immigration reform, yes; climate change, probably not yet). It does not mean that those who demonize him as somehow apart and alien will suddenly see that his story, and his instincts, are quintessentially American. It does not ensure success, let alone greatness.

But it does mean that he will act as president with more assuredness, delineate with more clarity, and be more willing to show people who he really is or what he has become in his slow evolution. As the nation’s first African American president, he has consistently paid homage to the civil rights heroes who made his ascent possible, especially Martin Luther King Jr., whose holiday will be observed on the same day as Obama takes his public oath. But he has always been very judicious in expressing his blackness as president, rarely going beyond that evening last January when he channeled Al Green crooning, “I — I’m so in love with you . . . ” It is a complicated endeavor that required time and comfort, but he now seems ready, friends and associates say, to show more of that side of his heritage and personality.