In an hour and a half, the term of our 43rd President, George W. Bush, will end, and the term of President Barack Hussein Obama, our 44th President, will begin.
Bush leaves with Nixonian approval ratings, a widespread belief that his war in Iraq has accomplished nothing and that his war in Afghanistan is not going well, an economy in shambles, the legacy of losing a major American city in Hurricane Katrina, and international contempt.
Obama faces the highest expectations. He is seen as FDR to Bush 43's Herbert Hoover. His biography bears similarities to that of President Lincoln, another state senator from Illinois promising change. He is seen by many as bearing the mantle of Martin Luther King, Jr., completing our nation's journey towards racial harmony and equality. The French President proclaimed that under Obama, Europe will once again have a United States that shares its values. The youthfulness of Obama and his family, and his idealism, evoke John F. Kennedy's Camelot. He is compared to Moses, leading a people out of an oppressive period in their history, and Jesus, a Messiah to save us all.
The nation hungers for change, and Obama has the mandate and supporting cast in Congress, to accomplish a great deal. Through his campaign and transition team, Obama has already developed a reputation for being a consumate planner. His cabinet picks has been rushed through the Senate approval process, ready to fill their posts on day one, or close to it. The first 100 days legislative agenda is waiting in the wings, receiving finishing touches, but ready to define his admininstration and give it some consensus accomplishments. There are Executive Orders waiting in a stack, carefully vetted by his closest advisors and reviewed in detail, ready to be signed. Those Executive Orders will immediately turn back Bush Administration policies on key issues (like torture) in a way that prolonged efforts from Congress could not.
President Lyndon Johnson, like Obama, came from humble origins and had an amibtious legislative agenda. History remembers how he struggled to salvage his positive agenda from the all absorbing negativity of the Vietnam War that threatened it.
The consensus of Congress, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the Iraqi civilian government, a consensus that ultimately absorbed even John McCain who had proclaimed a willingness to fight a hundred year war in Iraq, forced the hand of President Bush who cut a deal with the Iraqi government that is already winding down the war in Iraq. An era of impunity for occupying foreign military forces ended with the New Year, under the new status of forces agreement there. U.S. troops (there are scarcely any other memebers of the "Coalition of the Willing" left), are scheduled with withdraw from Iraqi cities in June. There is a date on the calendar for complete withdrawal of U.S. troops, and there is every reason to believe that substantial withdrawals of U.S. forces will take place before then.
There is every reason to be optimistic about Obama's handling of the economy. The "Great Recession" is already so far advanced that its end is, while not around the corner, not hopelessly distant either. Obama can be trusted to do, at least, some of the right things from a policy perspective, to address the financial crisis, and to put together a group of people who understand and are skilled at working with government to implement those policies appropriately.
The greatest anxiety is that a weak economy and possibly escalating conflicts in Afghanistan may derail Obama's positive social agenda on issues like major health care reform to cover the bulk of the uninsured, and reforms designed to improve access to higher education. For now, all we can do is hope, wait and see.
But, today, I still have hope, higher than I've had for a very long time, that we are heading on the right track.