January 19th, 2009
12:49 PM ET

High Hopes

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/01/19/obama.first.week/art.obama.week.afp.gi.jpg]

By Leslie Sanchez
CNN Contributor & Republican Strategist

It’s just about all over. The historic 2008 election is past. A new presidency is about to begin.
On Tuesday, January 20, at 12 noon, Barack Hussein Obama will raise his hand, swear an oath and become the 44th President of the United States. But what kind of president will he be?

Obama is being carried into office on a wave of expectations so high they threaten to drown the Capitol. Like FDR nearly 75 years ago, the vast expanse of America – reeling from the impact of an unpopular administration they are glad to see go – expects Obama to fix, well, everything.

In one sense he presages Jack Kennedy. Youthful, handsome, fit and vigorous, Obama is a brilliant speaker who can inspire hearts with his words. But Kennedy entered office at a time of relative peace and prosperity, without articulating fully the ambitions of the agenda he would bring forth beginning with his inaugural address. Obama, whose campaign was long on style but, frankly, short on specifics may be counting on the glitz and glamour accompanying his inauguration to carry him forward but what he needs are results.

Team Obama is telegraphing that the first 100 days, a concept originating with FDR as the benchmark by which to measure a new presidency, is to be eclipsed by the first 100 hours. Meaning that by Friday, or thereabouts, we will have useful guideposts to show us which way the new administration is going.

What we do know is that Obama appears committed to an expansion of activist government. In this he will find many allies on Capitol Hill, who have managed to slip things as diverse and unconnected as “net neutrality” into the economic stimulus package. Of course, George W. Bush followed the activist government model too. Under his eight years in office government grew, by many important measures, by more than at any time since Lyndon Johnson, who built on the Kennedy program and then went well beyond it.

All the uncertainty has Republicans scratching their heads. Many are trying desperately to find a way to navigate the treacherous waters between those who want to see Obama’s agenda opposed and those who want everyone to let “the new guy” have a chance.

There are many models Obama could follow. He could be a trail-blazing interventionist like Teddy Roosevelt or he could focus on calm, managerial competence like Eisenhower or he could, like Reagan, seek to fundamentally change the relationship between the people and their government. The problem, in this case at least, is that the people are not at all clear about what they want other than to get out of the mess we are currently in without it having to cost them too much.

Obama has about a year to make his mark before the campaign of 2010 begins. Historically, the party in power loses seats in a midterm election. And the Republicans need not have an effective or cohesive message to achieve a comeback, as was the case in 1966 when they undid much of the Johnson landslide.

With expectations so high, however, Obama needs to have a record of accomplishment to point to – in foreign affairs, in domestic policy and, most importantly the economy – or voters in the center will turn against him because he has failed to live up to the promise they saw in him.

Filed under: Barack Obama • Inauguration • Leslie Sanchez
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Kevin

    My hope is the reverse Denny Green, I hope Obama isn't who I think he is. I take him at his word when he speaks and I see a dystopia. President George Walker Bush spent too much money and Obama seems to want to out do him.

    January 19, 2009 at 1:53 pm |
  2. Shayla Williams

    I am concerned about great expectations on Obama's presidency. In my opinion, the black race is held to very different standards. We must be the very best if not extraordinary to get praise for our contributions. Obama will fail if he is average and will succeed if he accomplishes the unimaginable.

    25 yr. old Black American,

    January 19, 2009 at 1:48 pm |
  3. JC- Los Angeles

    As a registered Independent who voted for Obama, it has become very apparent that Obama needs to immediately fix the culture of corruption that has swept government and industry and implement wide reaching oversight measures starting tomorrow.

    Obama should start by removing Timothy Geithner from consideration for the Treasury secretary position; if one fails to pay social security taxes, how can one ethically govern?

    Unless Obama holds people accountable and demands ethics reform, he will merely be an author, speech giver and face man.

    January 19, 2009 at 1:12 pm |
  4. Renee

    Leslie: I heard you make some of these same points on air yesterday. Reid and Pelosi must set a side their childish ways and let Obama lead. IE: Stop putting up obstacles for success. They have 2 of the biggest Dem egos in the party. The Dems themselves might in fact derail our Pres. Elect.

    Meanwhile I was at an interesting Republican luncheon last week. It was interesting because many of us had worked on various campaigns. The retired folks had worked the polls. There was pray for PE Obama to lead this country. We were reminded to support him in thoughts and prayers and leadership within our own community. It was quite a good message. The speaker who was a Congress person said we must support Obama so that we can succeed and grow. We must not beat up Obama like the Democrats have beaten Bush with all this negativity. It was a time for a new beginning for America. Hoping, praying and working for a successful outcome for all to have a better life and a good future.

    January 19, 2009 at 1:11 pm |
  5. Katie

    Why does the news media keep refering to Barack Obama as African American? He is bi-racial not African American. Is he ashamed of his white background or that his mother came from Kansas? I personally feel by stressing that he is bi-racial would help sooth both black and whites. He actually grew up in a white community. That is why I ask this question.

    January 19, 2009 at 1:09 pm |
  6. Cindy

    People definitely have way too high of hopes as to what they think Obama will accomplish! He himself sees this and is even trying to bring it down a few notches.

    People think just because we are ushering in a black president that this nation has changed but the harsh reality is come Wednesday racism will still be around, people will still be losing their homes or homeless, we will still be in two wars..one of which there is no telling how long it will last, and our economy will still be shot! We may have jumped one hurdle in race relations but it doesn't solve everything that is wrong with our country or this world.

    It's going to take major work and time to get this country back on it's feet so people better realize that and not get too ahead of themselves by thinking that Obama is going to solve it all as soon as he hits the office.


    January 19, 2009 at 1:07 pm |