Dallek is among a small group of historians invited to the White House on an occasional basis to meet with Obama. He recalls at one point talking to Obama about the Tea Party and its anti-government rhetoric: “I called it the politics of resentment, and he said, ‘Bob, I think you’re right, there’s something subterranean about the way these people process things’.”

“We didn’t talk about race,” Dallek told the Daily Beast, “but I took it as an expression of feeling on his part that race is part of the resentment, resentment of the fact that they feel they’re being elbowed aside, not just by blacks, but by Hispanics, and Asians too.” Asians voted for Obama in a higher percentage even than Hispanics, Dallek notes, adding, “Race is never very far from the American experience.”

Sensitive to the underlying dynamics of his election, Obama steered clear in his first term of anything overt that might stir those subterranean emotions. But now time is winding down, and he appears more willing to take risks. This could manifest itself in the executive action he has promised at summer’s end to clarify the immigration status of tens of thousands and perhaps millions of immigrants, or in the tax issues that allow American corporations to shift their address overseas and stick taxpayers with the lost revenue.