That was the speech where he told the nation it was time for racial reconciliation. It was where he echoed Rodney King's plea that "we all just get along,"- only more eloquently. Here was an intelligent African-American. Here was someone we could trust.
This compared favorably with the impressions left by other prominent blacks. Political figures such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton might aspire to the presidency, but few whites considered them for this honor. They were simply too angry. As such, they reminded them of street thugs.
But Obama was different. He was not angry. Far from it, he was affable. With a smile on his face, and a lilt to his voice, he was someone who could be believed. Obviously part of the American family, he brought intelligence and perceptiveness to the national scene.
But now the mask has begun to slip. The anger underneath his fa ade of cordiality has started to show. As the pressures on him have grown, it has been more difficult to keep his true feelings under wraps. The budget crisis has put him on the spot and prompted him to lash out - irrespective of his personal or political interests.
One of the more revealing instances of this was his televised declaration that he was "summoning" the congressional leaders to the White House. Many commentators were surprised by the naked arrogance of this demand. It was too reminiscent of the imperiousness of an absolute monarch.
Many of these same observers were also offended by Obama's stipulation that these leaders bring a viable solution to the debt predicament with them. This too struck them as excessively authoritarian for the president of a democracy. After all, members of congress belonged to a co-equal branch of the government.
What few onlookers seemed to realize (at least consciously) was how angry these pronouncements were. They might have noted the hard stare in Obama's eyes, and the edge in his voice, but his reputation for geniality made it difficult to conceive of him as incensed. The man was simply too nice.
Nevertheless, when understood in context, his partially shrouded fury makes perfect sense. We must remember that Obama was abandoned by his birth father, semi-abandoned by his mother, raised by contentious grandparents, exposed to virulent Indonesian racism before the age of 10 and then subjected to the ignominy of being racially marginalized in Hawaii.
How could anyone escape being irate at such an upbringing? Rage would be the normal human reaction to this sort of abuse, and, whatever else he is, Obama is a normal human being. Thus, he had to be livid at the treatment he endured. Nonetheless, he was a child who must have feared retaliation - and further abandonment - if he allowed his actual feelings to show.
And so he covered them up. He assumed the pose of affability that has become his trademark. Rather than fight back openly, he smiled and allowed the insults to roll off his back.
On the surface, he was too gracious a person to reciprocate in kind. This response had the effect of disarming his tormentors. How could they continue to persecute him when he was so polite and likeable?
So successful was this strategy, and so effectively was it implemented, that it projected Obama to the apex of the political pyramid. Not just the people immediately around him, but those who knew him only from what they saw on television were convinced he was what he seemed. This was a man who could be a friend. It was a person who meant it when he promised to be everyone's "keeper."
Except, that as his policies have revealed, our president is more concerned with his own welfare than anyone else's. This is not a man who loves others. It is a man who is angry at others, including his nation. As alarmingly, it is a man who acts on these impulses.
The rest of us had, therefore, best beware!
Melvyn L. Fein Ph.D. is a professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University.