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lawrence martin

He thinks too much. Such men are dangerous. – William Shakespeare

Or are they? Barack Obama, rational man, is putting the postulate to the test. With his prudence and thoughtfulness, the 44th President is getting on a lot of people's nerves. In the P.T. Barnum extravaganza otherwise known as the race for the Republican presidential nomination, the contenders rail at him for his reticence, for running a White House they depict as weightless.

Why doesn't he set the world straight with a show of American potency? Why isn't he stopping the Islamic State, pushing back Russian President Vladimir Putin, ending the civil war in Syria?

Hot-breathers such as Republican contender Ted Cruz, he of the carpet-bombing school, rarely pause to ponder the track record on Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Vietnam; on how these wars and incursions foundered; on how removing one tyranny often results in its replacement by another; on the exceeding difficulties of extricating one's self from savage regional conflicts; on the bloodshed.

Rancour about Mr. Obama's cautionary ways reaches beyond Republicans. Others find frustration, as well, but are hesitant to recommend the warrior path. They condemn the White House approach, but when asked about alternatives don't have much to say.

The impact of all the Obama-bashing, especially given the high-profile Republican debates, has served to overshadow his many policy successes. Serious historians will be hard-pressed to find a second presidential term as productive as his. Second terms are usually, to use a mild term, ill-fated.

George W. Bush's brought the country to its knees. Bill Clinton faced the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Ronald Reagan had Iran-contra, Richard Nixon resigned over Watergate and Lyndon Johnson, who had only a brief first term, fell victim to the Vietnam War.

What has Mr. Obama's so-called weightless White House done? In the past year alone, there has been the Iranian nuclear agreement, the Paris climate accord and the mammoth trade pact known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. These deals are yet to be time-tested, but they are potentially potent.

In his second term he has also ended the isolation of Cuba, secured same-sex marriage and his health-care reforms and brought in the Clean Power Plan. It has taken a long time to restore the U.S. economy, but his policies are now bearing fruit.

For all the recent criticism about keeping the country safe, how many foreign acts of terror have there been on U.S. soil since Mr. Obama became president? The country's sick gun culture will never be eradicated but, unlike the right, Mr. Obama at least puts up a fight. Racial tensions have been handled delicately by his White House, as has the thorny immigration issue.

The measure of his work can perhaps be seen in the sorry state of his opponents. The Grand Old Party's leading lights in the nomination fight are derided as blundering blowhards.

There is truth in the criticism of Mr. Obama's foreign policy as lacking in intimidation. The Oval Office bestows enormous authority. Barack Obama rarely brandishes it. Enemies feel they can challenge him. They can push their luck with this guy.

But can anyone seriously dispute the notion that his rationalism has brought the country far back from the depths to which it had plunged before he took over?

Macho leaders, driven by ideology and emotion, naturally attract nativist passions. Much of their appeal is to what the media describe as low-information voters. Much of this appeal in turn descends into pandering to prejudice. We saw this from the Canadian government in recent years. In the United States it has reached feverish proportions with Donald Trump.

Barack Obama does not pander. As he said last month, he is not going to take actions "that make America look tough or me look tough" just for the sake of it, just to satisfy the madding crowd.

His rational calm stands in contrast to testosterone leaders. In the searingly polarized domestic climate and the frighteningly volatile international one, the importance of his measured judgment cannot be underestimated. He gives the lie to Shakespeare's dictum.