Will people down the road think him a great president? I don't know.
What I can say is that Andrew Sullivan is right (I linked the most recent thing I could find, but he says it constantly, and rightly so): Obama's great strength is patience. He has, as no one I can think of has had in recent times, an ability to just completely ignore the 24 hour news cycle. Whether it was his pre-Iowa nomination lull, or his summer 2008 doldrums, or his methodical planning for Afghanistan, or, over and over again, his refusal to panic on health care, the pattern is about as clear as any could be.
Of course, we don't know. We don't know what if anything he gained from taking all the time he thought he needed on Afghanistan. We don't know whether he might have won Iowa more decisively. We don't know whether some grand gesture during Crazy Town Hall August could have yielded a quicker bill, or if an immediate reaction to the Massachusetts Senate election might have made things easier. When you win, no one questions your strategy...but of course one can win with a terrible strategy. So what we can say for sure is that he has the ability to ignore the daily news cycle; proving that it helps him is really another matter. That said...
Yes, I do think it's an enormous strength. Partially because winning each and every news cycle is almost certainly a waste of time. Partially because everyone else is putting so much effort into it, so the player who doesn't is freeing up an enormous amount of time and energy. Partially, I suppose, for the same reason that (warning: actually horse racing analogy coming) I'll always bet the only closer against a field of speed horses.
The Republicans, collectively, seem right now to exemplify the opposite approach. I don't know that they could have won this battle; a whole lot of legislating comes down to the numbers, and I'm not at all as certain as some are that there was a winning strategy available to a party with a minority in the House and only (at the key moment) 40 Senators. Still, I think there's quite a lot to what David Frum says, and even more. After all, Frum, as I read him, believes that Republicans could have had a policy victory (or avoided what for them is a policy disaster) had they compromised. I wonder whether Republicans might have successfully sabotaged the whole thing had they made a more plausible effort to compromise. If Grassley and Enzi had skipped the town halls and stuck to a mantra of trying to reach an agreement...if petty obstruction (not the basic filibuster, but all the extra votes and late nights and reading the bill aloud and all) hadn't angered people such as Evan Bayh...if Republicans had shown up at the summit with a serious compromise proposal...perhaps they could have managed to push just hard enough that liberal and moderate Democrats couldn't agree with each other. Instead, as Alex Massie points out, the GOP practically begged the Dems to unify against them, and they got their wish tonight.
The iconic image of the Republicans from the health care reform battle was their choice to spend the very last week before the vote attacking the legitimacy of a process which not only was, in fact, legitimate, but which was only a rumor in the first place. They did a great job of it! They came up with a catchy name -- this group of Republicans is just great with catchy names -- and they all spoke, as if with one voice, of the coming outrage. Just as, of course, they spent the previous month focusing on demonizing another perfectly unobjectionable procedure, or the month before that stirring up anger at a minor provision of the bill that will soon be repealed at no cost to the underlying bill. Or, how about this one. Did you notice that almost every Republican who came to the floor to briefly register opposition to the bill used the exact same formula (..."this flawed bill," if I remember correctly). What terrific, and utterly pointless, message discipline!
I should wander back to Obama, shouldn't I. Oh yes: he apparently just doesn't care at all about winning the news cycle, or the day, or even the week. He wants to win elections, and passage of legislation, and, I suspect, the war in Afghanistan. He seems, as far as I can tell, surrounds himself with people who have the same view.
I'll say one thing: I wouldn't bet against him.