Politics

First Thoughts on the Obama Presidency

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In a few hours, Barack Hussein Obama will be President of the United States of America. This is an exceptional moment in U.S. history, not because Obama is the first black president (although that’s certainly noteworthy) but because we’re at one of those rare crossroads when we know the next four years will be of great importance to the future of our nation.

In January 1989, the country was in good economic shape and communism was on the run. In early 1993, our most apparent challenge was a minor recession already ending by the time Bill Clinton took office. At the start of 2001, the important question was how best to spend a budget surplus. You’d have to go back to January of 1981 to find economic turmoil and international problems anywhere close to the level of seriousness we face today.

Unsurprisingly, you also have to go back to 1981 to find a new president as anticipated as is Obama. In the long run, Ronald Reagan lived up to the hopes of many of his supporters. But there were missteps and disappointments along the way. We should prepare ourselves for the same under President Obama. There will be errors. There will be distasteful compromises. And there will be periods when many of us doubt the wisdom of the man we elected to lead us.

That said, today is not a time for pessimism. The historic moment of this new presidency is not only about the man ascending to the Oval Office. At risk of sounding trite, our future involves all of us (or at least a large number of us) participating in the betterment of our nation. We cannot afford the level of selfishness and inattentiveness that has permeated our culture for the last several presidencies. But neither can we afford docility, meekly following the dictates of our government or the simple-minded directives of the opposition.

If Obama is indeed a wise man with the potential for greatness, he needs a wise electorate resistant to the urges of bifurcation. The red/blue mindset is a ruinous one, smothering free thought and critical thinking on both sides of the divide. Good ideas and real change will not come from an electorate willfully trapped in partisan ways of thinking.

I, for one, hope to be able to judge Obama not by where he finds his ideas, but by the quality of those ideas. I am certainly susceptible to the lures of ideology and simple solutions, but I hope Obama and his team will make the old grooves uncomfortable. If Obama proves to be a post-partisan president, then the electorate’s willingness to move forward from the partisan traps of the past few decades will likely determine whether or not we achieve real change — not change as a platitude or a campaign slogan, but a genuine improvement in this country.

We know the times ahead will be challenging. We don’t know what kind of president Obama will be. But today is a day for thinking about the future and realizing what needs to be done by all of us if we want the next four years to be better.