A NYT retrospective on Obama's dinner with historians





From the first time Barack Obama summoned the country’s leading presidential historians to dinner, they saw that the type of discussion he wanted would be different from their talks with previous Oval Office occupants.

There was almost no small talk, for this was no idle exercise. Though Mr. Obama knew many of his predecessors’ stories cold, he was no history buff: he showed little curiosity about their personalities and almost no interest in the founding fathers. His goal, the historians realized, was more strategic. He wanted to apply the lessons of past presidential triumphs and failures to his own urgent project of setting the country on a new path.

At three private annual gatherings during his first years in office, he asked pointed questions: How did Ronald Reagan engineer his 1984 re-election despite a poor economy? Where did the Tea Party fit in the tradition of American protest movements? Theodore Roosevelt bypassed Congress to launch progressive programs; could Mr. Obama do the same?...

Now Mr. Obama, a specialist in long shots, faces what may be the climactic challenge of his political career: a second chance to deliver the renewal he still promises, but without a clear mandate, a healthy economy or willing Republican partners....

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