WASHINGTON -- No year that saw a 778-point single-day stock market drop, the price of oil fluctuate by more than $100 a barrel and the death of Irvine Robbins -- the inventor of Jamoca Almond Fudge ice cream -- can be called good. But the election of Barack Obama as president made 2008 important.
During a long political season, Obama was both charming and charmed -- favored by the gods of economic catastrophe, who turned a tight election into a Democratic mandate. A neophyte senator managed to combine inspiration with organization, progressive ideals with a conservative temperament, and a message of change with a manner of reassurance. As evidence, the "team of rivals" in his proposed Cabinet seems more like a team of professionals.
So far, Obama is attempting to be a unifying national figure -- in spite of his most insufferable supporters. "Indeed," explains Joe Klein of Time magazine, "as the weeks have passed since the election, I've felt -- as an urban creature myself -- less restricted, less defensive. Empowered, almost. Is it possible that, as a nation, we're shedding our childlike, rural innocence and becoming more mature, urban, urbane ... dare I say it, sophisticated?"
Indeed. Is it possible for a pundit to be more like a college freshman who has just discovered the pleasures of wine, co-ed dorms and Nietzsche -- shedding the primitivism of his parents and becoming, dare I say it, an annoying adolescent?
Obama does not need the service of nymphomaniacs on his honeymoon. In 2009, he will require sober supporters -- and loyal critics -- to get through challenges that will not yield to charm.
First, a nuclear Iran seems both inevitable and unacceptable. For the Iranian government -- representing a proud culture and resenting near, nuclear neighbors such as Pakistan -- the acquisition of nuclear capabilities seems reasonable. For any American administration -- fearful of Iran's terrorist connections, of the domination of a vital region by a radical government and of the prospect of a Middle East nuclear arms race -- Iranian nuclear capabilities are a strategic nightmare.