The European view that Obama is some sort of accidental president, that he does not truly represent the essence of America, is a bit disturbing as well as insulting. I think a bit of it is a greater fixation on Obama’s race than you will find here and, concurrently, a misguided belief that Obama’s race makes him less of an American in America than a white person would be. Europeans have always had a good time with American racism, finding it very comforting in its confirmation of our essential boorishness. In this sense, the Nobel was meant to encourage us in our new, admirable path — keep it up, Yanks. Thanks, Olaf…

As a black man in a white America, as a half-white man in a black world, Obama has always been an anomaly — simultaneously on and off the bus. It is one of his strengths because he has the eye and the ear of the outsider — the quality that, in one respect, has made ethnic minorities of all types such acute observers of the culture. They have the distance to see absurdities — such as peach-colored Crayolas labeled “flesh” or, a lesson for Justice Scalia, the notion that a cross is the most common and therefore an unobjectionable burial marker. (Not, dear Antonin, in my family.) Now, though, Obama is the very personification of his country, and distance and aloofness will no longer do.