Butch Mazzuca: So this is Obama’s ‘change’
Barack Obama’s presidential campaign was a masterpiece. While many considered his rhetoric to be without substance, they forget that the purpose of a political campaign is to get oneself elected, not to flesh out specific policies.
Obama won the election largely because the voters felt the country was headed in the wrong direction. He capitalized on that dissatisfaction by promising change, but he never specified what that change would look like.
Nonetheless, if one listened closely to Sen. Obama during the campaign, his statements were flexible enough to be interpreted differently by different people. And in many ways, both his supporters and detractors heard exactly what they wanted to hear.
The New Republic’s editor-at-large, Peter Beinart, recently wrote that as Obama has stocked his administration with one former Clinton official after another, the cry has been: “Where are the new faces?” “You call this change?”
But for the first time in four decades, a Democratic administration is going to hit the ground running because it will be staffed by people who know how the federal government works.
Obama understands that collapsing public-opinion polls can destroy a presidency, even when the president’s own party controls Congress. If President-elect Obama wants a successful presidency, he will have to keep his poll numbers up. By choosing a slew of qualified Washington insiders, he has ensured the first days of his administration won’t be squandered, as was the case with past Democratic administrations.
In addition, what many considered radical positions at the beginning of Obama’s campaign have now become consensus positions, and it appears that Obama is behaving much more like a pragmatist than an ideologue.
Obama’s campaign theme was “change” ” change in domestic policy and change in foreign policy, which included getting us out of Iraq within 16 months.
However, President-elect Obama’s position on Iraq has now, to a large extent, merged with the pending Status of Forces Agreement there. He strongly disagreed with Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton on several key foreign-policy issues during the campaign. Nevertheless, he selected the former as his running mate and the latter as his secretary of state.
His choices of nonideological Timothy Geithner, a longtime Washington insider, for treasury secretary and Christina Romer, who is tapped tapped to be the chair of his Council of Economic Advisers (and the author of a major study showing how tax hikes are a drag on economic growth), bode well for the economy. Appointing former Clinton adviser Larry Summers to his economic team was another solid middle-of-the-road choice.
Obama also has met with the first President Bush’s national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, to discuss foreign-policy issues. Scowcroft is very much a part of the foreign-policy establishment and on the nonneoconservative right.
Also, the selections of Gen. James Jones as national security adviser, coupled with keeping Bob Gates on as secretary of defense, speak volumes.
Considering the magnitude of the challenges facing the incoming administration, one is compelled to ask if Obama’s apparent move to the center is predicated on reaching out or if it’s political self-defense. After all, in times of crisis, the last thing a new president needs is a gaggle of enemies.
Some speculate Obama struck a deal with Hillary just before wrapping up the nomination. Others feel he’s trying to emulate Lincoln’s “team of rivals,” although if truth be known, three-quarters of Lincoln’s team never made it through Lincoln’s first term.
But regardless of his motivation, Obama has already precipitated significant change. Let’s not forget that less than 150 years ago, blacks were in chains. Less than 50 years ago, blacks were drinking from separate water fountains. Less than 25 years ago, blacks were still being kept from voting. Today, we have a black president.
The election of a black man to the nation’s highest office gives hope to minorities across the globe, not to mention how global expectations have been raised about the United States. If the majority of the world believes that there’s a new dawning in America, it can only work to our benefit.
Obama will take office amid a historic financial crisis, the absence of a coherent energy policy, millions without health insurance, a dysfunctional immigration policy and existential threats from Islamic militants and a recalcitrant Russia.
But the three presidents the media often compare Obama to also faced great challenges. Lincoln fought a civil war; FDR faced a depression with 25 percent unemployment and World War II; Kennedy had Berlin and the Cuban missile crisis. In addition, the man Obama frequently refers to as a transformational president, Ronald Reagan, took office with an intractable Soviet Union, 55 Americans being held hostage in Tehran, 9 percent unemployment, inflation in double digits and interest rates in the high teens.
These leaders successfully charted courses through the darkest of times. Now, Obama has the opportunity to place his name next to theirs. If his appointments are truly a means of incorporating dissimilar ideas and divergent points of view into his administration, well, that’s the type of change we can all believe in.
Quote of the day: “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” ” Pericles (430 B.C.)
Butch Mazzuca is a business consultant and writes weekly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com.