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Leading article: A President with a difference

From the moment President Barack Obama stood up to address the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) it was obvious that here was a black leader addressing a black audience. The rhythm of his speech became more emphatic, his language more preacher-like. Just as in Africa, from where he had recently returned, Obama chose to tell his fellow blacks that theirs was the future but they needed to grasp it themselves.

For too long, said the President, Afro- Americans had "internalised a set of limitations" and "come to expect so little from the world and from ourselves". No-one, he concluded, "has written your destiny for you – your destiny is in your hands. You cannot forget that, that's what we have to teach our children."

We have grown used by now to a President with the gift of the gab and the determination to spell out simple truths in the language of hope and aspiration. He could say things to his audience which only a fellow Afro-American could. But it is as well to be reminded that, despite a white mother, Obama has grown up in the minority communities of the US, married a woman from the inner city and sticks most closely to this milieu in his inner circle.

That makes him not so much an alien to the Washington political establishment and the American hinterland – indeed he has been remarkably successful in a short space of time in projecting himself as a President of all Americans – as driven by a background unique in the history of the White House. It explains some of the poise, and the patience, that is now his hallmark, and perhaps also his peculiar ability to seem both detached and committed at the same time.

Barely six months into his presidency, Mr Obama is already under fire for seeming to say much but achieving little as he tackles a host of problems from healthcare reform and the recession inside the US, to the Middle East, nuclear disarmament and global regulation outside. But this may be to underestimate both his pace and his determination. This is a different figure from any that we have been used to in the White House and the world, and America has yet fully to comprehend him.