For Barack Obama, the easy part is over. Dealing with the rednecks, racists and right-wing dead-enders was duck soup compared to what's coming now. While we were engaged in pleasant diversions like debating health care reform and financial re-regulation real trouble was brewing overseas.
Our new president came into office with a vision of the future and a long to-do list that the previous administration had either badly botched or sorely neglected. He knew what he wanted to spend his political capital on, he knew the approximate direction he wanted to take the country, he thought he had an idea of the history he was going to make.
He is about to be overtaken by events. The anvil that will forge or crush his presidency isn't going to be the town halls or the blogosphere, it won't be in Congress or the Supreme Court. It will be, once again, thousands of miles away, where reckless men are making desperate bets with the lives of millions. It will be, once again, a dozen little fires, threatening to burst into a firestorm, that test his steel and define his legacy, as it did to FDR and JFK and LBJ before him.
Iran wants a bomb, Israel wants to bomb Iran, Bin Laden wants his audiotaped fantasies to become fatal realities, homegrown Jihadists with homebrew explosives want to kill, kill, kill.
Will Afghanistan become a playground for Al Qaeda again, is it a war to win or a quagmire to avoid? What do we do if Iran goes critical, if Pakistan explodes into civil war, if Moscow sends the tanks into Georgia, if a ship full of North Korean missile parts sails for Yemen?
Those are the stark choices that are rushing to confront our president right now, at an ever-accelerating speed. He is the man who must decide, do we go all in, is it just a bluff, can we let things happen and live with the consequences? Will Iran get the bomb, will they use it, will Israel wait quietly to find out, will Russia and China help with sanctions or pick up the pieces after we break ourselves in a war that costs them nothing?
We have a most reasonable president who now has to deal with a scarily unreasonable world. This is his test and it's not the one he was looking for. The 3 AM telephone is ringing off the hook. What does he say when he picks it up?
"Yes, we can." There is still power in those words. The honeymoon is over, but the dream is alive, and Obama has more people believing than not. It will take time, but we're only ten months into an eight year presidency, he has time. I have no doubt that Obama means it when he says, "Yes, we can."
But there are forces afoot in the world that can turn it all to dust, if left unchecked. From Tehran to Times Square, nihilists, dictators, fundamentalists, crazies and crazies like a fox are weaving nightmares and hatching plans that would shatter our beautiful hopes for a better, more compassionate world and paint it red with blood.
Obama came into power with grand ideas and many plans, as only the best leaders do. He was going to bend the future to his will, as only the strongest leaders can. He is trying mightily to rouse us from our gridlocked doldrums and get us moving forward again. Obama is a moderate by temperament and a progressive by aim, but a realist above all. He knows that progress is a ratchet, you make history by moving forward, click by click. Little victories adding up to big changes, that's how history is made. Obama knows that and he's doing it, through all the noise and turmoil and resistance he's pushing forward, pressing the agenda. When the dust clears and the naysayers have screamed themselves mute, we'll be further along than we are today. Obama will have made history.
But it's not just about the history you make. Sometimes it's about the history you prevent. Sometimes the measure of the man is to stand athwart history and shout "halt!"
The horizon is growing dark, you'd have to be blind not to see that. Obama is not blind. And now we're going to find out if he knows how to say the words that are not in his nature, and make them stick. "No, you can't."