I saw Walt Whitman in Obama here.
Today I discovered that novelist Zadie Smith made the same connection recently:
Obama can do young Jewish male, black old lady from the South Side, white woman from Kansas, Kenyan elders, white Harvard nerds, black Columbia nerds, activist women, churchmen, security guards, bank tellers. …
He can even do the 40-ish British traveler named Mr. Wilkerson, whom he remembers looking up at the night sky in Africa and saying, “I believe that’s the Milky Way.”
I think that what’s being described here is, in part, Obama’s negative capability (something Whitman also possessed). Obama seems to have gotten it, at least in part, from his lifelong reading of literary fiction.
See here for more on Obama’s reading, and reading habits.