- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2009

The candidate of hope will also have to deal with a competing emotion: fear.

When he takes the oath of office around noon, President-elect Barack Obama will have to do more than inspire, something he has been able to accomplish with aplomb. He also will need to calm a nation oppressed by war abroad and economic decline at home.

Mr. Obama is renowned for his oratory and has worked on his inaugural speech, his staffers say, for two months.

Expectations are high. A CNN poll last week found that 85 percent of respondents believe that Mr. Obama’s address will be either “good” or “excellent.”

But Vincent Reinhart, a former Federal Reserve Board official, said, “There is likely to be a somber subtext to the address.”

“Fear about our economic future is pervasive,” he said. “The president will have to strike a balance between characterizing the size of the problem and reassuring that it can be solved.”

Emmett Hobbs, 47, a retired Coast Guard sailor from Portsmouth, Va., lost his job as a sandblaster recently and came with friends to the inauguration in Washington only because his friends wanted him to drive them.

Mr. Hobbs, who is black, said he was “glad to see a change” when Mr. Obama was elected, but he also said he is aware that putting an African-American in the White House will not bring his job back.

“It’s real tough right now,” he said, standing in line for food from a street vendor during Sunday’s concert on the National Mall.

A Zogby Interactive poll released last week underscores the deep pessimism facing Mr. Obama.

Twenty-two percent of voters feel insecure about their jobs, the poll found, with 11 percent saying they are “not secure at all.” Less than 5 percent feel positively about the nation’s economic policy, and only one in three are positive about their own financial situation.

Ellie Morstad, a 68-year-old small-business owner from Monroe, Wis., a small town 50 miles south of Madison, said “Obama needs to stay positive.”

“The self-fulfilling prophecy of gloom will reign and continue to bring us down if we keep talking about it,” said Mrs. Morstad, whose husband came to the District for the inauguration. “Yes, we are worried about the economy, but we are ready to [hunker] down and take the consequences of debt and overspending, so get on with it.”

If Mrs. Morstad’s attitude is any indication of broader public opinion, then Mr. Obama’s audience will be primed for the message he plans to deliver.

“Too long there’s been a culture of anything goes,” said Rahm Emanuel, Mr. Obama’s incoming White House chief of staff, previewing the speech Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“To regain America’s greatness and continue to move forward and be an example around the world … we need that culture of responsibility, not just to be asked of the American people, but that its leaders must also lead by example.”

Though inaugural addresses are not usually the place for detailed policy explanation, Mr. Obama is expected to take immediate action on a few items in the hopes of sending a signal to the American public that he is serious about reform.

He will meet with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to talk about a plan to withdraw most U.S. troops from Iraq in 16 months. He may outline the process for closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He plans to sign executive orders that, among other things, lengthen the amount of time a former government employee must wait before joining a lobbying firm.

And on the economy, Mr. Obama will meet on Wednesday with his economic team to discuss efforts to get banks lending again, how they will spend the second $350 billion from the Bush administration’s economic rescue plan, and the roughly $850 billion stimulus package that has yet to be voted on by Congress.

One very senior former Bush administration official said he had “found among a lot of my colleagues a real hope that he’s successful.”

Yet the official, who asked that his name not be used due to the sensitive nature of talking about an incoming administration, hinted that Mr. Obama and his staff may be in for a rude awakening at some point, after the euphoria of the inauguration has worn off.

“You develop an understanding and almost a sympathy for people who are coming in bright-eyed and enthusiastic,” he said.

Mr. Obama has tried to lower expectations. He has been relentless in emphasizing publicly that the current problems are not going to be solved right away.


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