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Thread: The Opacity of Hope
01-20-09, 06:33 PM #1
The Opacity of Hope
Barack Obama takes the oath of office today amid a sense of expectation and opportunity rare even for new Presidents. Partly this is due to his heritage and the historic nature of his triumph, partly to our current economic troubles, and partly to a nation looking for a fresh start after the difficulties of the Bush era. The paradox is that in order to succeed Mr. Obama will soon need to turn the opacity of his hope into clear and often difficult choices, some of which will upset his most passionate supporters.
The Illinois Democrat brings impressive talents to the White House -- not least the self-confidence that he can do the job. Though only four years out of the state Senate, he seems remarkably undaunted by the task and the moment. His rhetorical gifts are formidable, no small virtue in a job whose influence depends chiefly on the power to persuade. The President-elect's transition has also gone more smoothly than most, certainly in contrast to Bill Clinton's in 1993.
Mr. Obama is likewise equipped with a first-class temperament. He wore the pressures of an epic campaign as lightly as anyone since Ronald Reagan. While his opponents lurched amid this or that headline, the man from Hawaii via Harvard and Chicago never lost his cool. This equanimity will serve him well amid the crises to come, assuming his confidence doesn't slide into an arrogance that sometimes attends 70% Presidential job approval.
Yet for all of those personal virtues, there remains an elusiveness, an opacity, to Mr. Obama's political character. This is in contrast to Reagan, who was personally distant but publicly well defined. Mr. Obama won the primaries and then the White House with a campaign based on the gauzy promise of change more than on a clear agenda. He became a political Everyman into whom Democrats, independents and even many Republicans could pour their great expectations.
This lack of definition has also marked his personnel choices. When given the chance to pick someone from one policy camp or another, Mr. Obama has typically chosen both: Free-trader Ron Kirk and protectionist Hilda Solis; command-and-control regulator Carol Browner and more market-oriented Cass Sunstein; Tim Geithner, who has voted to open the monetary floodgates, and Paul Volcker, who is worried about the dollar; Tom Daschle, who wants to nationalize all U.S. health care, and Peter Orszag, who believes current entitlements must be reformed.
Soon Mr. Obama will have to choose. That is especially true on the struggling economy, which is the main reason he won so handily. For 25 years from the moment the Reagan policy mix took hold in 1983, the U.S. has had a run of economic expansion marred only by two mild recessions. Younger Americans have grown accustomed to rising incomes and growing 401(k)s. Mr. Obama was elected on his promise to restore that middle-class prosperity. He can best serve the country, and his own Presidency, by focusing his political capital on policies that promote growth.
Yet over that same 25 years Mr. Obama's political coalition has amassed a wish-list of regulatory and redistributionist ideas that would undercut that effort. The global warming crowd wants a huge new carbon tax that would hit the South and Midwest especially hard. Big Labor wants to make union organizing easier, which would slow job creation. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is agitating to raise taxes immediately, even amid recession, to finance a spending spree we haven't seen since LBJ's Great Society. Part of Mr. Obama's success will depend on whether he says no to these liberal interests. If he does, he will make it easier for the economy's natural recuperative powers to work -- and he and his party will benefit.
Mr. Obama can also go a long way toward removing the bile from the debate over national security. For some on the left, the Bush era must be repudiated with prosecutions and a return to the pre-9/11 status quo. John Conyers and the New York Times want heads on pikes. Down this road lies wasted political capital for the new President, and risks for U.S. security.
Mr. Obama seems to recognize this, given his recent comments that he prefers to "look forward" rather than back; that Guantanamo may take his entire first term to close down; and that "Dick Cheney's advice was good" to assess Bush policies before leaping to undo them. Now that he is responsible for American security, Mr. Obama is in a position to validate the Bush programs that have kept us safe, perhaps with some political window dressing that mutes the opposition from the anti-antiterror left.
As a historic cultural symbol, Mr. Obama is also uniquely placed to ask Americans of all races and incomes to show a greater sense of personal responsibility. His own rise to the White House is a walking affirmation of American opportunity. His reaching out to evangelical pastor Rick Warren, both in the campaign and for his Inaugural, is a shrewd and welcome sign that he wants to temper the social furies. Our particular hope is that he will also find a way to take on the teachers unions as the main obstacle to inner-city opportunity. He could revolutionize the school reform debate in an instant.
As a matter of political character, many of these questions hang on Mr. Obama's toughness. We know he is intelligent and clever. What we don't know is if he can make a difficult decision in the national interest that is unpopular, and then endure the consequences. Reagan showed his steel by staring down the Patco strike at home and Soviet scare-tactics against missile deployments abroad. Whatever his mistakes in Iraq, George W. Bush's "surge" was a lonely call that has proven to be right. As far as we know, Mr. Obama has had to make no such decision in his short public life.
The complicated nature of our world means that every modern Presidency is to some extent a leap into the unknown. Mr. Obama's meteoric rise makes him a bigger leap than most. We don't know if he is a genuine man of the left, or a more traditional pragmatist. The audacity of our hope is that as President he will use his considerable talents to return his party to the policies of growth, opportunity and the vigorous defense of U.S. interests that marked it the last time the country had such great expectations for a Democratic President -- under JFK.
01-20-09, 07:24 PM #2
Very good article.
"The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money."
- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
Tell me not, Sweet, I am unkind,
That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind
To war and arms I fly. - Lovelace
The opinions expressed by this poster are wholly his own, and should never be construed to even remotely be in representation of his employer, its agencies or assigns. In fact, they probably fail to be in alignment with the opinions of any rational human being.
01-20-09, 07:30 PM #3I'm your huckleberry...
Quemadmoeum gladis nemeinum occidit, occidentus telum est!
You can be the weapon, and the gun in your hand is a tool - or the gun is a weapon and you are the tool.
I was looking for a saint who was a devil of a lover,
but every girl I found was either one way or the other...
01-21-09, 09:05 AM #4
He might want to consider coming out of the gate with more than just a trot.
We are who we choose to be.
R.I.P. Arielle. 08/20/2010-09/16/2012
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