This Man, This Moment


My inaugural take on what this new president has shown about himself these past two years is here. Money quote:

If you close your eyes and imagine what this combination of fiscal and foreign policy realism portends, you will come to a pretty obvious conclusion. This Democratic liberal is actually, when it comes down to it, a man almost entirely within the mainstream spectrum of the European centre right. Imagine a Cameron-style Tory becoming president of the United States and try to come up with something he would do differently.

This blend of pragmatism and realism reminds me in the American context of Eisenhower more than any other recent president. Obama has the unerring instincts of a conciliator and a moderate Tory. But he has the rhetorical skills of a Kennedy or a Churchill. That’s a potent combination.

It may be, of course, that the relief at the end of the Bush era is colouring our hopes. It may also be that events conspire to derail the man, or that the habits of the past two decades in Washington will return with a vengeance and do to Obama what was done to Clinton, another centrist Democrat who came to office on a tide of goodwill. But I don’t think that, given the immense crises we all face, it is unreasonable to hope for more.

There is something about Obama’s willingness to give others credit, to approach so many issues with such dispassionate pragmatism, and to shift by symbols and speeches the mood and tenor of an entire country that gives one a modest form of optimism. Even now, as the outlook seems so dark, and as the inheritance seems so insuperable, three words linger in the mind.

Yes, he can.

And two words echo back at me.

Can we?

(Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty.)