Obama's Test Tonight

Unlike many liberal blogs, I'm encouraged by the spending freeze and thrilled by the debt commission idea. But to my mind, none of this makes any sense unless Obama passes a core political test.

Does he have the courage to insist that healthcare reform is not dead? Does he use his clout to pressure the Senate to give the House some signs that the reconciliation strategy can work? Does he use every ounce of political capital to pass this bill, the cornerstone of his reform agenda, the failure of which will mean the end to any grappling with the health insurance crisis for another generation.

If he cannot do that, if he punts on this bill, or if he is passive and uncommitted, then those of us who placed hope in his leadership skills will have to acknowledge we hoped too much. The test of leadership is sometimes staying a course even when all the polls and pols have turned against it on a dime. There are times when a president should preside; but there are also times when he must lead.

I have one simple test: if the health bill dies from neglect and irresolution, Obama is no leader.

He is a follower. He cannot vote present on this one. He has majorities in both Houses and a landslide victory and he is unable to deliver on a core priority in his first year. That's a definition of a failed presidency and it is why the GOP - with nothing to offer the country - decided to make it his Waterloo. They knew and know how gutting this bill and killing reform and suffocating any serious change in this country is their way to a nihilist victory. And such a victory would not be a vindication of Republican policy right now. It would be a perfectly reasonable response to a Democratic party palpably incapable of governing and a president clearly unable to deliver.

If he cannot do this, he does not have the fortitude to be a successful president. And his weakness on this will be rightly interpreted as weakness everywhere else. That applies to foreign policy as well, with Netanyahu and Khamenei and Chavez and Sarkozy all watching to see what this guy is made of.

These are dark times as the forces of reaction and resistance redouble their efforts to prevent any reform on any issue. Obama was elected to break through that impasse. If he cannot deliver, he must cede to someone who can.