Obama: Can he live up to expectations?

Barack Obama faces enormous challenges when he steps into the White House. Is the country expecting too much too soon?

The crowds started gathering near the Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington, D.C., on Sunday morning, hoping for a glimpse of the man they expect to be the nation’s savior. The people peering over the security barriers knew they couldn’t hope for more than a glimpse of Barack Obama, who’d moved his family into the hotel to get his daughters started at their new school. Yet the crowds came anyway, said Noam Levey in the Los Angeles Times, because they regard the 47-year-old president-elect with something approaching awe. “It’s hard to believe things will change right away,” said Hallie Baker, a 23-year-old university student. “But this is our best chance. My hope is still there.” Rarely in recent memory has a president entered office with higher expectations, said Dan Thomasson in The Washington Times. Following “the foreign and domestic woes of the last eight years,” the public’s regard for Obama has reached “near adulation.” Sixty-seven percent of Americans approve of him and 75 percent think he’ll somehow get the badly damaged economy back on track. For the moment, Obama can do no wrong. “But how long will this euphoria last?”

Probably not long, said Howard Fineman in Newsweek. The challenges facing Obama are staggering. A year after this recession began, our economy is still headed downward, with experts warning that unemployment may surpass 10 percent. Abroad, Obama will need to address the Gaza conflict, heightened tensions between Pakistan and India, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Obama and his aides are determined to send a jolt of electricity through Washington, but the realities get more immobilizing by the minute.”

There’s one way Obama can break that immobility, said Shailagh Murray in The Washington Post. He can “deliver on his campaign pledge to change the way Washington does business by adopting a more pragmatic and inclusive governing style.” Choosing a politically diverse Cabinet has been a good start. Soon, aides say, he’ll be including top Republicans in negotiations on major policy, including his $1 trillion economic stimulus plan. The idea is to create some goodwill among a potentially troublesome GOP minority, break the partisan gridlock, and restore public trust in a federal government that’s widely regarded as broken.

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All that, though, requires Obama to start defining who he is, said Jennifer Rubin in Realclearpolitics.com. Up till now, Obama has spent his political career avoiding taking stands on highly contentious issues, so as to preserve his “carefully crafted ambiguity.” But he can’t indulge in that coy posturing “once he is responsible for daily decisions on everything from economic recovery to the war on terror.” To be an effective president, said John Avlon in TheDailybeast.com, Obama must establish a “consistent philosophical vision,” and use his enormous popularity to sell that vision to the American people. Ronald Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt did that brilliantly. Jimmy Carter did not.

Like Roosevelt and Reagan, Obama is moving into the White House at a time of widespread misery, said David Shribman in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Pessimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy, especially with respect to the economy, and Americans need some faith that government can make a difference. But they also can’t expect miracles, or Obamamania will quickly sour, and turn to anger and disappointment. So in the first 100 days, the most pressing item on the new president’s agenda will not be the Mideast or the economy. “His first chore is to manage hope.”

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