Obama sheds cool style for 'fearless' final lap in office

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Obama Delivers Impassioned Eulogy for Slain Rev. Pinckney in Charleston

Barack Obama has reached the stage of his presidency where if he wants to break out in song publicly, as he did with "Amazing Grace" in a eulogy on Friday, then he's going to do it.

With a year-and-a-half left in office, Obama is shedding some of his trademark "no drama" style for a looser approach, admitting that he feels more fearless and liberated.

It may also be in recognition that he has few big-ticket policy achievements left to enjoy in polarized Washington as the end of his two-term presidency approaches.

In a remarkable week for the president, a victory on Pacific Rim trade was snatched from the jaws of defeat on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. The Supreme Court on Thursday validated his signature healthcare law, guaranteeing he would accomplish a central second-term goal, to protect the 2010 Affordable Care Act from being dismantled by Republicans.

The icing on the cake came on Friday with the high court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage, a move Obama said was a "big step" toward equality for Americans.

After the court decision was announced, Obama took a Rose Garden victory lap.

"Progress on this journey often comes in small increments, sometimes two steps forward, one step back," he said.

"And then sometimes, there are days like this when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt."

Some Obama confidants described a more liberated, even feistier president, willing to mix it up with a heckler inside the White House, as he did on Wednesday. Or willing to use a racial epithet, long abandoned by civil society, to describe black people in urging more racial unity.

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Obama sheds cool style for 'fearless' final lap in office
Vice President Joe Biden walks through the crowd at the funeral service for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Friday, June 26, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
US Vice President Joe Biden (L) hugs US President Barack Obama after Obama delivered the eulogy during the funeral of Rev. and South Carolina State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, at the College of Charleston TD Arena, in Charleston, South Carolina on June 26, 2015. US President Barack Obama made a fresh pitch for tighter gun controls as he eulogized the pastor killed in the Charleston church shootings, saying Americans had ignored the toll of gun violence for too long. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden, bows their heads in prayer during services honoring the life of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Friday, June 26, 2015, at the College of Charleston TD Arena in Charleston, S.C. Pinckney was one of the nine people killed in the shooting at Emanuel AME Church last week in Charleston. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks during services honoring the life of Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Friday, June 26, 2015, at the College of Charleston TD Arena in Charleston, S.C. Pinckney was one of the nine people killed in the shooting at Emanuel AME Church last week in Charleston. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
US President Barack Obama embraces Jennifer Pinckney, the wife of the slain Rev. and South Carolina State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, during his funeral at the College of Charleston TD Arena, in Charleston, South Carolina on June 26, 2015. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama greets Jennifer Pinckney, during the funeral of slain pastor Rev. and South Carolina State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, at the College of Charleston TD Arena, in Charleston, South Carolina on June 26, 2015. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
CHARLESTON, SC - JUNE 26: U.S. President Barack Obama delivers the eulogy for Sen. Clementa Pinckney, who was killed during the mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church along with eight others, at the College Charleston TD Arena on June 26, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. Suspected shooter Dylann Roof, 21 years old, is accused of killing nine people on June 17th during a prayer meeting in the church, which is one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston. (Photo by Paul Zoeller-Pool/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama claps his hands before he delivers the eulogy during the funeral of slain South Carolina State Sen and Rev.Clementa Pinckney, at the College of Charleston TD Arena, in Charleston, South Carolina on June 26, 2015. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama bows his head with First Lady Michelle Obama before he delivers the eulogy during the funeral of slain South Carolina State Sen. and Rev Clementa Pinckney, at the College of Charleston TD Arena, in Charleston, South Carolina on June 26, 2015. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
CHARLESTON, SC - JUNE 26: U.S. President Barack Obama delivers the eulogy for South Carolina state senator and Rev. Clementa Pinckney during Pinckney's funeral service June 26, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. Suspected shooter Dylann Roof, 21 years old, is accused of killing nine people on June 17th during a prayer meeting in the church, which is one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - JUNE 26: U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama arrive at Charleston Air Force Base on June 26, 2015 in North Charleston, South Carolina. Obama will deliver the eulogy for one of the victims in the mass shooting at Emanuel AME, Sen. Clementa Pinckney. Suspected shooter Dylann Roof, 21 years old, is accused of killing nine people on June 17th during a prayer meeting in the church, which is one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston. (Photo by Paul Zoeller-Pool/Getty Images)
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - JUNE 26: U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama arrive at Charleston Air Force Base on June 26, 2015 in North Charleston, South Carolina. Obama will deliver the eulogy for one of the victims in the mass shooting at Emanuel AME, Sen. Clementa Pinckney. Suspected shooter Dylann Roof, 21 years old, is accused of killing nine people on June 17th during a prayer meeting in the church, which is one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston. (Photo by Paul Zoeller-Pool/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama step off Air Force One upon arrival at Charleston Air Force Base on June 26, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. Obama is in Charleston, South Carolina to attend services for Reverend and South Carolina State Senator Clementa Pinckney. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
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Why the change in style? He has more experience now, the president said in a podcast interview last week with comedian Marc Maron.

"Part of that fearlessness is because you've screwed up enough times that it's all happened. I've been through this, I've screwed up. I've been in the barrel tumbling down Niagara Falls and I emerged and I lived ... That's such a liberating feeling," he said.

'A LITTLE FREER'

Norman Eisen, a former White House counsel to Obama and former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic, said the president "feels a little freer now ... to let his heart show publicly."

Eisen has known Obama for almost three decades and maintains that the president's "core is the same." But on subjects he cares deeply about, including race, Eisen said Obama is displaying more of his emotions.

Obama's speech on Friday in tribute to nine African-Americans killed by a white gunman in Charleston, S.C., was what the black community has wanted to hear from him for years.

This was not simply Obama as healer-in-chief, but a call to action from the president to end racial insensitivities.

"For too long we were blind to the pain that the Confederate flag stirred in too many of our citizens," he said in a message aimed squarely at white Americans.

Senator Dick Durbin got to know Obama well when the future president was elected to the Senate in 2004 and they both represented Illinois. Durbin was one of the first national

politicians to embrace Obama's 2008 White House campaign.

"You've seen a much more forceful president in the last few

months on many issues," Durbin said in an interview, adding it was largely because Obama gave up trying to win over Republicans in Congress with his signature cool-headed reserve.

Except for bonding with Republicans on trade in recent weeks, "he's just had to try to devise ways to reach his goals without bipartisan support of Congress," Durbin said.

Republican lawmakers see things differently, describing a president they say refused to build personal relationships. Often, they said, they left White House meetings feeling as if they were lectured by a chief executive who just wanted to "check off the box" that he met with them.

And he angered many of his Democratic allies too by forging ahead on the free-trade pact.

Where Obama goes from here is unclear. Negotiations over Iran's nuclear program could result in a deal or could fall apart. Russian aggression against Ukraine continues, and the West's fight against Islamic extremism is uneven at best.

His long-desired bid for tax reform looks unlikely at this point as the country's attention turns to the campaign to find a successor to him in 2016.

But for one week at least, Obama had memories of achievements to last a lifetime.

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