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.
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