It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again ... who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly.
Well, Barack Hussein Obama sure passed the Teddy Roosevelt test in the first year of his presidency. We don't know yet if the results will be triumph or failure, but he has dared greatly at a moment of multiple crises for the U.S. Even his critics must acknowledge that. He has not sidled up to the issues facing the country but has confronted them directly pumping billions into an economy in free fall, putting 50,000 more troops in Afghanistan, pushing toward a universal system of health insurance, beginning the fight against climate change, reactivating government regulatory agencies, transforming America's image abroad from arrogant bellicosity to comity. And he has done it all in a dignified and thoughtful fashion. Bestowing a Teddy Award this column's annual attempt to celebrate political courage on President Obama is a no-brainer. May he stay bold even as election season approaches.
Vice President Joe Biden deserves one as well, for disagreement with the boss above and beyond the call of duty. Biden may have lost the Afghanistan argument, but he surely shaped it for the better. I would also like to pause a moment to congratulate the Vice President on his gaffes. The political consultants' playbook may not have a place for a pol who admits there is a "30% chance we're going to get it wrong" on any issue, as Biden did on the President's economic plan, but the Vice President's arrant candor is a quality to be appreciated, not mocked. Teddy Awards are also hereby bestowed on Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates, who courageously joined this Administration despite being, respectively, a fierce political opponent of the President's and a Republican. Upon arrival, Clinton showed passionate intent to reform long-neglected foreign aid programs, a non-headline-grabbing crusade that is essential to the military's counterinsurgency strategy; Gates took on wasteful weapons systems with impish glee and thereby placed emphasis where it always should be on the troops.
Across the aisle, in Teddy Roosevelt's Republican Party, courage and comity was hibernating. But Senator Lindsey Graham's intelligence and independence have won him Teddys in the past, and he was never more deserving than this year, when he faced down his home-state party on climate change and the need for civility in politics. He also showed creativity in his efforts to come up with a legal code for terrorist detainees, and personal courage by spending his annual three-week Air National Guard stint in Afghanistan, studying the prison at Bagram. Usually, journalists don't qualify for Teddy Awards, since they tend to be critics rather than denizens of the arena, but the conservative columnist David Frum a Bush Administration speechwriter, who coined the phrase "axis of evil" honored his intellectual principles by standing up against the radical excesses of his party's demagogues. Let's hope that other honorable conservatives rise to join Frum and Graham in rebuilding an intellectually supple and civil, and essential, Republican Party. (No health care reform Teddys will be issued until the final vote, although Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon certainly deserves one for his bipartisan efforts over the years, the most creative work on health reform that I've seen.)
In the world's toughest region, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry deserves a Teddy for the sheer courage he showed in going out among the Afghan people and for standing against the prevailing tide, advising the President against sending more troops until the Afghan government cleaned up its act. General Stanley McChrystal deserves a Teddy as well, for seeing clearly the problems with the Afghan mission, reporting his misgivings honestly and then working with a new President to create a new campaign plan that, we must hope, will turn the tide.
In June, I met a gentle and courageous man who lost an election but won a nation Mir-Hossein Mousavi. The Teddy goes not just to him, but to the legions of patriotic Iranians I met in the streets and especially to those in prison now, like Mohammad Ali Abtahi, who was forced to "confess" to "crimes" he didn't commit in a ridiculous show trial. The Iranian people, unfailingly gracious to this foreigner, deserve a far better government than the one they have.
And finally, as always, a Teddy for the troops: spending time with them is the greatest privilege I've had as a journalist. May they all come home safely, their mission accomplished.