One of the strengths of a great leader is his or her ability to change the national conversation on issues of importance. Whether one agrees with President Obama or not, one has to concede that he has introduced subjects over his five years in office that have been neglected or been seen as off-limits. This has been, for the most part, his template -- using the "bully pulpit" to convince Americans to rethink or reconsider serious policy questions and look at new directions. I am thinking first about his speech last week about the drone controversy, when the president called for an end to the exclusive focus on America's war against terrorism and asked for the repeal of the act granting special powers to the presidency to fight al-Qaeda. He pointed out that we have by now eliminated most of the terrorist masterminds and we don't have to be in a war without end, so we can manage future battles through police and intelligence work instead of military interventions.
Obama's outspokenness has also changed the conversation on other subjects. There is, of course, the long neglected issue of health coverage for the uninsured. Obama raised that issue, pressed for legislation and successfully got a bill through Congress. There was his passage of the Dodd-Frank bill to regulate Wall Street, and his decision to embrace same-sex marriage. Most recently, he has put on the agenda two previous matters thought to be dead which other political leaders have ducked -- immigration and gun control. Both are before Congress and may result in changes. Obama may be criticized for not schmoozing enough with individual congressmen, or for running a sometimes imperfect administration (those so-called "scandals") but what remains critical is his willingness to engage Americans and push forward matters of national import.