While most commentaries trace Barack Obama's decline to his failure to fight for the progressive policies whose supporters got him elected, this article argues that Obama's rise and fall are both functions of his embodiment and then betrayal of a collective psychology here called U.S. political romanticism. This romanticism envisions a highly functional form of inclusive political deliberation that is now absent from U.S. political life and which Obama seemed to enable by telling the truth in public about complicated private states of feeling. Obama's mishandling of the Henry Louis Gates Jr. arrest serves as an example of a retreat into standard concealment and falsification of “controversial” parts of the private self that has ended Obama's bid to be a transformative political figure.

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