27 January 2009
Jose D. Roncal
We’re now in the second week of the new Obama administration and his approval ratings are still hovering at a high 68%.
In spite of facing enormous challenges, or more likely because of them, he’s hit the ground running and has set about to reverse some of the unpopular policies left from the previous administration. As promised, Obama has moved quickly to implement changes including his stimulus package, requirements for tighter Wall Street regulations and higher automobile pollution standards.
Obama and his carefully selected team are riding high and the country’s hopes are riding high, but it remains to be seen how long the euphoria will last. People by nature have short memories and even though he has a lot of good will to expend in getting his agenda adopted by a Congress which now has Democratic majorities in both Houses, there are already questions regarding the viability of his proposed stimulus plan as well as opposition by advocacy groups related to other issues like stem cell research and family planning.
Some Republicans will vote no on the stimulus package because they believe it contains too much wasteful spending and doesn’t do enough in the short term to create and save jobs. Others are calling for major rewrites and, as expected, Fox News has simply written it off as “socialism.” But it appears that Obama has exerted a lot of effort in getting the Republicans’ input in order to reach bi-partisan agreement, even attending a private dinner with ultra-right wing pundits, an act which simultaneously shocked, angered, and pleased his supporters.
The stimulus plan is likely to pass in the Democrat-dominated House, but it may run into some blocks in the Senate. It’s possible that we’ll know more as the week wears on and the disputes continue.
What can’t be disputed is the fact that Middle-class America has rallied around him, that he is being hailed around the world as a figure that represents hope and change, and that just the fact that he was elected has already improved the country’s image abroad.
It’s going to be a long and painful process; an uphill battle all the way with many pressing issues that each call for immediate attention. In addition to the enormous economic mess, there are still the international problems to deal with—Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Israel, Hamas, Pakistan, and who knows what else is on the horizon?
Obama has proven his innate ability to mobilize people, to bring them together for a common cause, an asset in today’s political environment. It’s been said that the first 100 days are critical for any new president. It’s seen as a window of opportunity during which he has to set the tone, establish an agenda and demonstrate that he can lead and move lawmakers in both parties to reach a consensus on his ideas, as well as convince his supporters that he can deliver on his promises.
It appears that he’s well on his way to deliver, though he’s made it clear that things are likely to get worse before they get better. He’s making great strides to make his administration as transparent as possible, using technology to the fullest. His team has launched a website at www.recovery.gov where they will publicly track how funds to implement the economic stimulus package are spent after it becomes law.
In his own words, “Instead of politicians doling out money behind a veil of secrecy, decisions about where we invest will be made public, and informed by independent experts whenever possible. We will launch an unprecedented effort to root out waste, inefficiency, and unnecessary spending in our government.” An oversight board will routinely update the site. That’s an entirely new concept that truly speaks to change, and one we’ll be keeping a close eye on.
Change does seem to be here, but there is so much that needs changing, turning things around will be like changing the course on a gigantic ocean-liner. There’s still going to an extended period of forward momentum before we notice any meaningful shift in direction. It may be slow, but as long as it’s steady, we can hope for the best.
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