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Jacob Heilbrunn

Jacob Heilbrunn

Posted: September 9, 2009 11:27 PM

Impact Man: Obama's Comeback


Will this do? For the past month, Democrats have been wringing their hands over President Obama's supposedly lackluster performance, while Republicans have become increasingly cocky about derailing his presidency. But Obama's speech Wednesday should put to rest any illusions that he or his presidency are on the ropes.

Obama didn't simply come out swinging. He also made the single most persuasive case for government intervention in decades in the final section of his speech. He put an end to the Reagan era dogma that America's biggest foe is government itself. With this speech, Obama has begun to fulfill the promise of his presidency. Obama, you could say, found his sea legs. He's ushering in a fundamental philosophical shift that could set the stage for several decades of a revived and modern liberal movement, while the right spins off into noisy irrelevance.

Obama's references to Ted Kennedy were moving, but he made it abundantly clear that he wasn't simply pursuing an old-time liberal vision of big government as an end in itself. Instead, Obama explained that there are times in America's history when the free market has failed. To avoid a catastrophic failure today he had to intervene at the outset of his presidency to bail out the economy. Recall that both the Republican right and progressives chastised Obama then for either doing too much or not enough. They were wrong. The economy stabilized -- and Obama gets the credit for making the right call.

Wednesday night Obama struck the proper balance again. He made it clear that he isn't talking about radical measures like putting the insurance companies out of business and scorned the canard that he's setting up death panels to be administered by bureaucrats. His speech was soaring in its aspirations, but modest in its proposals.

This fall he will celebrate the biggest victory of his presidency when Congress passes a health care bill. It could well be the first of many. If Obama continues on this path, he will not go down in history as a good president, but as a great one.