Obama's Crowning Achievement

04/15/2013 09:58 pm ET | Updated Jun 15, 2013

With Barack Obama already four months into his second term, and with little more than two years remaining before lame duck status limits his effectiveness, it's not too early to ponder how history will judge his presidency.

What will future generations remember most about the Obama years? What will they recall as Barack Obama's finest hour? What will be considered his greatest accomplishment?

Much will happen -- on the world stage and here at home -- over the next couple of years, and something unforeseen could effect the Obama legacy. Still, I think it unlikely that anything accomplished in future will equal the long-lasting positive impact of an under-publicized Obama initiative set in motion earlier this month.

Until two weeks ago, I would have suggested equality as the hallmark of President Obama's time in office. He has fervently preached equality, and not just to the liberal members of the Democratic choir. He has talked equality to all of America, and as a result, there is more equality for women, for gay people, and for minority voters. Not since Lyndon Johnson's fight for civil rights and voters' rights has there been a White House that has so forcefully pursued equality on multiple fronts.

There are numerous accomplishments for which this current president deserves credit -- not the least of which is ending one war and winding down another. And whatever success comes from the ongoing battles for gun safety and immigration reform will be due in large part to the president's efforts. Huge also is the enactment of a near-universal health care system -- something other presidents had failed to do in 100 years of trying.

But as important and impressive as this list of accomplishments may appear to us today, it is that initiative launched two weeks ago that will, arguably, have the most impact on America's future, and will be remembered as President Barack Obama's crowning achievement.

On the morning of April 2, the president announced to a gathering of luminaries in the East Room of The White House a new and ambitious, decade-long research effort to uncover new ways to treat, prevent, and cure brain disorders.

To be known as the BRAIN Project (short for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies), the initiative will bring together companies, universities, foundations, philanthropies, and federal agencies in a public-private partnership that will be designed to revolutionize understanding of the human brain -- which remains one of the greatest scientific mysteries. The BRAIN Project efforts will cover Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, autism, schizophrenia, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injuries.

President Obama's interest in brain disorders and research is nothing new. While exercising spending restraint in most areas, his 2012 budget allowed for an increase in spending for Alzheimer's research.

That decision was made in part, I'm sure, on humanitarian grounds; but also in view of the ever increasing economic cost of Alzheimer's and other brain disorders.

And in this year's State of the Union address, the president spoke of the need for Alzheimer's research: "Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the space race." That remark was a reminder of another presidential address to a joint session of Congress; and another decade-long national project.

On May 25, 1961, President Kennedy said that the United States should set as a goal the "landing of a man on the moon, and returning him safely to the earth" by the end of the decade. It seemed to many at the time to be an overly ambitious and unattainable goal; but America did it -- and in eight years, not 10.

Like Kennedy, President Obama has set a goal that seems ambitious, but is nevertheless attainable. It is a goal -- that if reached -- would be the crowning achievement of the Obama presidency.