Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Musings On The President-Elect: We're Not In Kansas Anymore, Are We Barry

I said from the moment it became obvious that Barack Obama would prevail that winning would be the easy part, and I have felt distinctly uncomfortable observing his first interactions as president-elect with George Bush and the Washington establishment.

Part of that unease falls into the category of This Is Too Good To Be True, and it will be a while before I don't wake up in the morning wondering if it is all a dream.

The larger part of my unease is the reality that governing -- you know, stuff like uniting, leading and legislating -- presents challenges for any incoming president, even one with a mandate that is as broad as Obama's. (Chris Rock hilariously notes that Obama of course has been given the most difficult job in the world because he's black)

But this guy is being handed the reins of power in the midst of a multi-alarm fire, and while Democrats control both houses of Congress, the potential to screw up is high even if there were the makings of a bipartisan consensus on some seriously big issues like the economy, health-care reform and Iraq. Which there are not.

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Here's a scary thought: Conservative pundit William Kristol has been wrong -- often wildly wrong -- about virtually everything that he has commentated on at the Weekly Standard and The New York Times this election cycle.

So it is with horror that I note that he is predicting that it will be a tough four years for conservatives because Obama will preside over an economic recovery that will be in full flower when it comes time to for him to run for re-election.

Oy vay!
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Two of my least favorite words in the political lexicon are moderate and centrist, and both are getting vigorous workouts in the week since the election. Both words are pretty much devoid of meaning, or putting it another way, what they mean is in the eyes of the beholder.

Case in point is the carefully leaked news that Obama "is going to take a centrist approach" to intelligence issues, according to one anonymoose on the president-elect's transition team.

Does this mean that Obama's criticism of Bush administration counterterrorism policies while campaigning was so much bluster? Does this mean that he too will be obsessively secret, wiretap Americans without warrants and approve the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques? And does he really intend to create a new kind of court to replace discredited military tribunals?

Change we can believe in?

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Watching Obama speechify and then handshake his way down the rope line at a campaign rally in Kansas was picture-postcard perfect. Watching him play high-stakes poker with Bush in the Oval Office -- I'll raise your auto-industry bailout with a free-trade pact with Colombia, and so on and so forth -- gives me the heebie jeebies.

As we have been reminded time and again over the past eight years, trust is the most precious but also the most frail commodity in politics.

I had Bush's number long before most people did, so what little trust I could muster in him after 9/11 and again on the eve of the Iraq war was conditional and offered only grudgingly. That it was betrayed was not exactly shocking, but it hurt nonetheless.

My trust of Obama is offered willingly, but it is finite.

I find myself feeling a little like Licorice, the DF&C's dear departed black labrador, whose previous owners abused her, including what pretty obviously were beatings with rolled-up newspapers. Licorice hadn't been hit in years, but still would cower whenever a newspaper was handled in her presence.

I guess what I am saying is that it is going to take a while for me to become comfortable with this President Obama stuff. I hope and pray that he gives me the chance.

Photograph by Doug Mills/The New York Times

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