Presidents are defined by their first acts in office. Early in his administration, President Clinton lost his image as a cautious moderate when he announced he was overturning a decades-old ban on open homosexuals serving in the military.
It is time for president-elect Barack Obama to consider what his first acts will be and how those acts will define him.
Early signs are worrisome. Republican strategist Bradley Blakeman, said he is “troubled” with talk of Rep. Rahm Emanuel becoming White House chief of staff. “He needs more of a statesman like a Tom Daschle, someone who can provide Mr. Obama a little better adult supervision.”
The president-elect must first focus on himself as a leader. It is easy to establish this from an appearance standpoint. Holding a joint session with the Congress after a “very lofty” inaugural address will go a long way. He should say that he intends to work with all of the Congress, not just the newly enlarged Democratic majority.
Showing his mettle in the policy arena is more challenging. Mr. Obama has to work on fixing the economy. But to do that places him inside a bubble of unpopular policy handed to him like a hand grenade by the previous administration. The $700 billion bailout that Republicans dislike, Independents hate and Democrats are uncomfortable with, is poison, House Republican Policy Committee chairman Thaddeus McCotter told us. Charging out of the gate with new regulations will certainly alienate Republicans and seem disingenuous without citing certain Democrats - Sen. Chris Dodd and Rep. Barney Frank - for their misdeeds supporting Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s risk taking.
“One, we would like to see Sen. Obama make sure all Americans get tax relief… two, we want to see a real energy policy in the United Sates,” Mr. McCotter said. He added that Mr. Obama must show that he will maintain security and be steadfast in Iraq and on the War on Terror.
Mr. Obama also should focus on entitlement spending. The Congressional Budget Office says, “Reforming Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid is the only way to get the budget under control.” Republicans will welcome any effort to control spending. Democrats can’t start out disagreeing with the first black president. Enough said.
Entitlements are the biggest unsolved problem in American politics. Shepherding through bi-partisan reforms would vault Mr. Obama to the upper reaches of America’s approval - and be good for the country too.