Put aside ending the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. They weren't so much divisive as the American people changed their mind, once the lying stopped. Ending them was relatively easy.
Obama is now taking on the tough ones. He's moving to end the Vietnam War and the Cold War and even the Civil War.
It's not easy to cast aside long-held habits and vocabulary. Republicans and Democrats alike have cherished Cold War rhetoric as an essential campaign meme to the present day. You can still hear remnants of McCarthy-like accusations of communist and socialist inclinations. Former Congressman Allen West has a specific number: "I believe there's about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party who are members of the Communist Party." And Rudy Giuliani led the Republican assertions that Obama was under "Communist influence." And the repeated chant of slavery's ideological cousin, "states' rights," resounds today on gay marriage or any other issue the Republicans face.
It hasn't slowed down Obama one bit. In the last two weeks Obama confronted the symbol of the Confederacy, and moved aggressively to make the peace with Vietnam and Cuba. We're opening an embassy in Havana, and Obama is meeting with the head of the Vietnamese Communist Party. It makes economic sense: Both are markets that would do our economy good. It makes geopolitical sense: Vietnam is firmly in the anti-China camp, as many anti-war folks predicted. The Cuban embargo/isolation has left the U.S. alone and out of touch.
No need to repeat the weird outrage of Republican presidential candidates. Oh, why not? Ted Cruz says all this is a president willing to "cave to a communist dictator." Thank you, John Birch. And they really don't know what to do about the Confederate battle flag.
What's most astonishing about all this is how long Vietnam and Cuba and the Cold War and the Civil War have lasted as political realities in both parties. It's hard to imagine that Castro came to power almost 60 years ago, and that the architect of the Vietnamese anti-colonial movement, Ho Chi Minh, was born in 1890. The political power of Cold War rhetoric has outlasted communism itself. We live in a world which has perfected anti-communism in a world in which it doesn't exist. What will most Republicans and some Democrats do when Cuba and Vietnam move even closer to the U.S.?
Obama is finally becoming what he predicted he would be: a transformational president. Not necessarily a popular one: Nixon was hugely transformational, and no one liked him. But policies and politics, rhetoric and reality are changing fundamentally.
There will be more. Obama's push for an Iran deal, merits aside, is a move toward mobilizing Shi'a Islam against Sunni ISIS. His tough talk on Putin will result in NATO reactivating European anti-Russian cooperation. And domestically, Obamacare is permanent, and he used a eulogy after a mass murder to stomp on the racist remnants of the Civil War. Well done.
So for someone who lived through and in the time of Vietnam, Cuba and civil rights turmoil, there's a realization that half a century later it's finally over. There's no nostalgia, believe me. It's about damn time.