03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Case for Barack Obama

Those on the left don't trust him. Those in the center have begun to doubt him. Those on the right hate him. They also hated Bill Clinton, however, and he did more to rein in spending, shrink the size of government and reduce the welfare rolls than any republican president in a generation.

President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month to a chorus of snickering critics. Even his supporters couldn't quite muster the courage for a sincere congratulations and arguments in his favor. But the young president did do something extraordinary that no other man alive may have been able to do. He changed the tone. It's not unlike being baseball commissioner. He can't point to any single game and claim any responsibility for any single win or loss, but he has changed the rules of the game. The problem with most of us is that we're game watchers, and to extend the analogy to football, we watch one play at a time, hoping for that one amazing interception or touchdown pass that sends couch potatoes to their feet and throngs of Doritos flying into the air.

Barack hasn't delivered any of those, but he has delivered a whole lot of first downs.

I think we know what Barack Obama wants. He wants healthcare with a government option. He's said so. He wants to end the ban on gays in the military. He's said so. He wants equal pay for equal work, and, in fact, signed a now forgotten executive order to make it the law of the land. Bottom line, his history demonstrates that for him "not" to want those things would be counter to who he is.

He is also very smart, and a diligent study of what his predecessors did right and wrong. Bill Clinton vowed to end the ban on gays in the military, and his attempt to do so was one of the first things he did in office. The result was near catastrophic. Leaders in his party turned against him as did his own top military brass. Timing and laying the groundwork is everything.

You could argue much the same about the Clinton healthcare initiative. It was a bold effort, but maybe too bold, polarizing the playing field and leaving too many players out of the process. Some argue that President Obama isn't being decisive enough. But maybe, just maybe, he's letting enough cooks get their pinch of salt into the stew that they'd become reluctant to walk away from it. In the end, don't be surprised if you see a last minute presidential push that results in some kind of a public option and the first real change in American healthcare in generations.

One of the problems the president faces is on the left. There is an ethic on the left that is rooted in principle. It suggests that any compromise is bad and, by its nature, a corrosion of the principle. The argument has merit. But, we live in a political world where compromise is written into the rule book. Our very system of government was a compromise between states rights and the power of the federal government, brokered by no less than Benjamin Franklin. Obama knows this, and obviously chooses to walk in the direction of change rather than to become so principled that the road gets pulled out from under him.

No change is no change, and change in the right direction can have a similar effect as redirecting an oil tanker 3 degrees in one direction. It's still headed for the horizon, but it's now headed for an entirely different continent.

Obama is playing a big game.

His biggest challenge will come in righting the economy, without fostering a return to Wall Street without Main Street results. His best bet at winning there, and on the Afghan/Pakistani battlefield, will come with a win in the halls of congress on healthcare. As slim as his victory may be, it will be more than any modern president has ever gotten. It will be his touchdown, scored one first down at a time, to a chorus of screaming critics, many of whom will start cheering the moment he crosses the line.

As Michelle Obama once warned critics, "Don't ever underestimate my husband." Maybe we shouldn't.