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One of the most seductive elements of Barack Obama's ascent to the White House was his unshakeable conviction that he was being called upon, at a time of epochal peril, to bend the arc of history America's way. Only a candidate possessed with such boldness and self-belief would have challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination two years after leaving the Illinois state senate, promising in his first campaign speech to “transform a nation and usher in a new birth of freedom on this Earth”. Only a man who frequently compares himself to America's greatest President, Abraham Lincoln, would declare that when he was elected, “the rise of the oceans will begin to slow”. Only someone who believes that America is on the crest of a dangerous historic wave - and that he “can help guide it” - would have undertaken a glitzy world tour midway through the campaign. Such ostentatious gambles underscored his promise to transform US governance, and with his intellect and cool temperament made a combination many found thrilling.