When it's "change" you're merchandising, the easy phrases flow easily enough. Walls between people "cannot stand." With "improbable hope," we prepare to "to remake the world once again" -- "a world that stands as one." "This is our moment, this is our time," proclaimed Barack Obama, when speaking in Berlin.
It was days ago -- an eternity in the affairs of a world that declines to stand still for even a minute, perpetually upending comfortable assumptions about the Needs of Now. Russian armed forces were not then marching through Georgia -- or bombing the homes and shops of a small neighbor closely linked to the country Barack Obama hopes to lead as president.
"Change" came to Georgia with a bang: a huge, destructive series of bangs that threatens the very existence of a cordial American ally.
Americans may be awaking to a new reality about presidential politics: To wit, you want a leader who recognizes danger the instant he sees it, who knows, too, the perils inherent in papering over cracks in facades.
I wouldn't for a second assert that Obama isn't such a leader. He might be. On the other hand, he might not. What we chiefly know of Obama, despite the cheerful and constant companionship to which he has treated us, is that he's big on "change" and "hope." Is he big on resolve and determination, not to mention intuitive grasp of changed circumstances? It's harder to say -- a consideration that could bulk large in the intuition that American voters bring to the polls.
Here's the record when it comes to Georgia. Obama, on learning of the Soviet invasion, played it cool. It was "important ... for all sides to show restraint." McCain, by contrast, demanded that Russia "immediately and unconditionally" pull its forces out of Georgia.
As Georgia's plight worsened, McCain called "Russian aggression both a matter of urgent moral and strategic importance" to us. He called for "high-level" diplomacy among European allies and said the United States should provide Georgia economic and humanitarian aid. Obama, for his part, urged that Russia "immediately and unconditionally cease its military operations and withdraw all forces from Georgian territory" -- the original McCain position.
On Georgia, Obama is possibly getting there. It took him a while, nonetheless, to figure out where "there" was. McCain, war veteran and foreign policy specialist as he is, knows instinctively that aggressors aren't perturbed by pleas to behave.