- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2008



I was at the post office the other day, rushing to get my last-minute gifts and packages off to family and relatives before I left town. As I waited in a long line, a woman approached me from behind to ask my opinion on the president-elect.

“Did you vote for Barack Obama?” she asked.

“Of course I voted for Obama,” I replied, surprised by the question. “The country is going to really like this man. He has great ideas and can inspire a rebirth of America’s spirit, strength and reputation.”

“How?” she wanted to know.

“As he assembles his Cabinet, pulls together his staff and reaches out to Republicans and those who didn’t vote for him,” I responded, “Obama is already starting to reveal his character and leadership skills.”

“Don’t go bragging on him too much,” she cautioned, “or you’ll cause people to back off. They’ll say, ‘He can’t be that good.’ They’ll start looking at him critically, looking for flaws.”

As the clerk behind the counter beckoned me to approach and began weighing my packages, I weighed the words of the woman standing behind me in line. She had offered some good wisdom, indeed.

As Mr. Obama and Joe Biden prepare to take the helm of leadership in this country, I think it’s clear that expectations are very high right now regarding the probable success of the Obama administration. The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll shows 80 percent of Americans are now hopeful their lives will improve in 2009. And 76 percent of them approve of how Mr. Obama is handling the transition to becoming the next president of the United States.

Just as Mr. Obama chose his equal to be vice president, so, too, has he assembled a stellar Cabinet to carry out his policies and campaign promises. USA Today reports Mr. Obama’s 18 Cabinet members include five women, four blacks, three Hispanics and two Asians. Bill Clinton’s 1993 Cabinet contained four women, four blacks and two Hispanics, the newspaper notes, and Mr. Bush’s 2001 Cabinet featured four women, two blacks, one Hispanic and two Asians.

Yet the Obama Cabinet is larger than the sum of its parts. We have become too accustomed to judging a Cabinet by its race and sex rather than by the experience and expertise of its members. In this time of crisis, that is simply inappropriate.

Mr. Obama, however, managed to deliver a varied Cabinet unified across the board by its superior strength. The American people, regardless of their political affiliation, are impressed and optimistic.

Mr. Obama has made a major commitment to nearly impossible goals in four key policy areas that he can achieve only with a team capable of Herculean effort and feats. For starters, this Cabinet needs to gather all its forces to help Mr. Obama slay the economy’s nine-headed Hydra monster: gas prices, energy prices, housing, mortgages, stock market, Wall Street, banking, insurance and credit problems.

They need to help Obama withdraw our troops from Iraq responsibly and safely and improve our relationship with the rest of the world. They need to help him bring about significant improvements to our health-care system and find a way to increase federal spending on children’s health insurance. And they need to help him propose energy and environmental policies that directly address our nation’s dependence on foreign oil and contributions to global warming.

Mr. Obama’s team is already signaling that the estimated size of the economic stimulus package will grow to be even larger than the bailout of the financial system.

This inevitability, Mr. Biden said on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” reflects the concern of both conservative and liberal economists. In other words, our economy is teetering dangerously at the precipice, capable of freefalling into the abyss of a depression.

The Bush administration has struggled for the last six months to save the economy and staunch the hemorrhaging of jobs. Much of what they’ve done has been too little, too late. Their failure has weakened the glue that holds the economy together: confidence.

The administration’s dithering and delayed reaction to the auto-industry crisis is only the latest example of its weak leadership in the closing months of the Bush presidency. To paraphrase my former boss Al Gore, “It’s time for them to go.”

Now is the time for a new era in American politics. All signs indicate it brings with it the power and purpose necessary to usher in a rebirth of reform, personal responsibility, self-sacrifice and service.

In the spirit of the holiday season, I have shared with you the gift of wisdom delivered by a stranger waiting in line in a post office: “Don’t go bragging on [Mr. Obama] too much.” Let us not have unrealistic expectations of our new president. There is a reason he has asked for our patience and prayers.

Let us instead pray for small miracles, the first of which will be that Barack Obama and his team are ready to hit the ground running come Jan. 20, 2009.

Donna Brazile is a nationally syndicated columnist, a political commentator on CNN, ABC and National Public Radio and the former campaign manager for Al Gore.

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