Today at noon, Barack Obama will take the oath of office. He ushers in what is unquestionably a new era in American politics. For many, he instills a new sense of hope. For others, that optimism is tempered to varying degrees by concern over the policies he will implement.
As a conservative American, I believe we all should give the new president the benefit of the doubt and wait to see what actions he takes. On the campaign trail, Obama gave mixed signals about how he would govern. Much of the time he sounded a conciliatory, unifying note. At others, however, he signaled support for sharply liberal positions.
Throughout the transition, the more moderate Obama appears to have largely dominated. Most of his significant nominations thus far have been highly qualified, mainstream individuals. His rhetoric about the stimulus/economic recovery package has sought to reach out to members of both parties.
Not surprisingly, Obama’s biggest challenge will likely be the United States Congress. However, this isn’t a case of having to deal with Republicans — one gets the sense he could handle that pretty well, given his approach thus far. Congressional Democrats may well create the thorniest obstacles to Obama’s good intentions.
Already, some Democrats have begun to object to Obama’s nominations as too tame and complained that the $1 trillion price tag of the stimulus plan is not enough — and that no tax cuts should be included in it at all. From a procedural standpoint, Democratic leadership has flexed its muscle and shut out Republicans from deliberations in the House. This won’t resonate with the American people as it is purely inside baseball, but it taints the atmosphere in a way that is bound to spill over into public discourse.
The pressure from outside liberal groups may be even more intense. The news media has carried a variety of stories about activitists seeking to press Obama to act with vengeance against the Bush Administration and its policies. Rather than giving Obama a chance to govern before they launch their broadsides, they seek to convince the new administration to pursue criminal prosecutions for prior executive decisions and want instant and dramatic policy changes before the new team even hits the ground comfortably.
None of this is to say that my fellow conservatives will be easy to deal with. Indeed, many already seek to condemn the new president’s policies, before any are even implemented. There are those who are convinced he will fail and will do everything in their power to accelerate that outcome.
And, of course, there are countless Obama supporters whose boundless optimism would have him annointed for sainthood before his signature hits any official document. The wave of support enjoyed by the new President is almost unprecedented in the breadth of its intensity. One need only look at the vast crowds gathering on the Mall in Washington at 6 AM this morning to understand that.
I would encourage everyone to step back and take a deep breath. Barack Obama may yet prove to be a great president. Or he could end up being viewe as a Carter-esque failure. On this — not even the first full day — of the Obama Administration, we simply don’t know.
Love him or hate him, every American should sit back and give Obama a chance to govern. Only after he has had a chance to govern should we begin to draw conclusions about the success or failure of his policies.