Maybe You Can

Audacity is not one of his qualities, and the hope he inspires in others, he expects others to fulfill. He agrees to watch and approve in case of success, but not to lead and support in the event of a protracted struggle for reform. His courage is real but limited, and not built for loneliness -- it demands rings of visible layers of protection with names like Gates, Clinton, Summers, Geithner. His invocations of principle would be better if they were not habitually cheapened by self-praise -- as in that sentence in the Peace Prize acceptance which announced that, by contrast with Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Barack Obama "faces the world as it is." Those heroes of self-sacrifice, Obama was saying, worked in a rarefied medium of sheer ideals; they surpassed him in point of resoluteness only because their task was smaller. The almost continuous eloquence of this president (marred by a fondness for platitudes) leaves such an agreeable feeling with those attuned to its sound that it can seem stingy not to take the word for the deed. But before endorsing anyone's principles, one ought to be sure what principles he has ever held in earnest. It is not finally a matter of courage, but of conviction. After Guantanamo, after state secrets, after cap and trade, health care, the settlement freeze, and Afghanistan, it will be hard to answer the skeptic who says Obama lacks the conviction of his convictions. The best one can say is that he would certainly like things to end up better than they were when he started; and he is willing to christen a new path and sign his name when the way seems clear. It is not nothing -- though not what we looked for, either -- that he mostly gives in to the old and destructive solutions only after the cause of reform has failed to win a victory for itself.