Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama's Shot at Greatness

George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt faced monumental challenges and rose to them. James Buchanan, Herbert Hoover, and George W. Bush faced comnparable challenges and failed in the face of them. Woodrow Wilson and Lyndon Johnson only partially succeeded in mastering the demands of their eras. Theodore Roosevelt and Bill Clinton always lamented never having that moment to meet. Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan (as well as Clinton and maybe Truman) probably fall between these categories, as both were popular presidents in modestly challenging times who probably succeeded more than they failed but who had notable shortcomings and never faced the singular events of depression, war, or a 9/11-type calamity. Context provides opportunity and challenges, and how a president responds to that opportunity and those challenges goes a long way in determining that president's place in history.

President Obama faces the circumstances for greatness but the question remains whether he masters the moment, or the moment masters him. Supporters like me believe he is the man for these troubling times. The clock is ticking on his hundred days, a constructed but symbolically resonant creation that presidents since FDR have faced with varying degrees of success. Obama's challenge will be to maximize his mandate, to use the current goodwill he has garnered as a springboard, and to use not only the next hundred days but beyond to impose his will on events rather than allow events to overrun him.

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