Of the presidents considered among America's greatest, three stand out: Washington, Lincoln, and FDR. It was during Lincoln's presidency that we faced our greatest threat from within. Washington's greatness lies not within the parameters of his presidency, but in that he led the great struggle - the American Revolution - that led to the first presidency. His greatest contribution to the nation during his presidency, besides putting down the "Whiskey Rebellion" was that he helped define what a "president" would be.
Other presidents have come and gone, and we barely think of them - not because they were bland, but because their moments in history were bland. They could have been the smartest men on Earth; they could have been the most courageous. It doesn't matter. It they were not dealt "existential mayhem," they could never be called "great". (Oh, and they could not start mayhem.)
George W. Bush's finest moment came when he stood atop the pile of rubble that was "Ground Zero" and shouted, "We're Comin'!" Outside of that, his presidency, as Shakespeare would say, was "bound in shallows."
Obama has been dealt an extraordinary hand. He does not have a war, he has wars. He has a 14 trillion dollar debt (that may explode). He faces a resurgent China, a resurgent Iran, and a resurgent Putin. And he gazes across an abyss at the "Arab Spring" - not the implosion of one critical nation, but the likely implosion of an entire region wherein lies most of the "mother's milk" that powers the world. Add to that, a rancor in American politics not seen since the days of Lincoln.
Besides, Obama has come along at the outset of a technological revolution, and it becomes him. He grasps it. He did not create it. He simply happened at the time it happened. Now he navigates it with a deftness that is unparalleled on the world stage.
He is the envy of foes both foreign and domestic. He is at once imposing, then reserve. When he imposes himself, they call him a braggart. When he is reserved, they complain that he is weak and unbecoming an American president who must always be out front. It is okay. That is the breadth of the office. Apparently, he has a similar breadth.
In the face of great times, to speak of great men is droll commentary. Yet, in the end, we always speak of great men and women. They are what we imagine of ourselves if only we were dealt the "winning" hand.