Thursday, November 06, 2008

Hard Choices And Challenges Follow Triumph

From Washington Post Staff Writer Wednesday, November 5, 2008, by Dan Balz:

After a victory of historic significance, Barack Obama will inherit problems of historic proportions....Obama must revive an economy experiencing some of the worst shocks in more than half a century. Abroad, he has pledged to end the war in Iraq and defeat al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. He ran on a platform to change the country and its politics. Now he must begin to spell out exactly how.

... he will govern with sizable congressional majorities. Democrats gained at least five seats in the Senate and looked to add significantly to their strength in the House.

But with those advantages come hard choices. Among them will be deciding how much he owes his victory to a popular rejection of President Bush and the Republicans and how much it represents an embrace of Democratic governance. Interpreting his mandate will be only one of several critical decisions Obama must make as he prepares to assume the presidency. Others include transforming his campaign promises on taxes, health care, energy and education into a set of legislative priorities for his first two years in office.

...Obama's ability to manage relationships with Democratic congressional leaders, with Republicans and with impatient liberal constituencies with agendas of their own will have a lasting impact on his presidency. Can he, for example, fulfill his promise to govern in a unifying and inclusive way yet also push an ambitious progressive agenda?

The first African American elected to the presidency, Obama built his victory with a new Democratic coalition. To the party's base of African Americans, Latinos and women, Obama added younger voters and wealthier, better-educated ones. That helped him raise his support among white voters -- a traditional weakness of recent Democratic presidential candidates.

...William Galston of the Brookings Institution, who served as domestic policy adviser during President Bill Clinton's first term, predicted a battle over analogies among Democrats seeking to influence Obama.

Some, he said, will argue that conditions require a major infusion of government activism and intervention, as in 1933. Others will point to the start of Johnson's first full term in 1965, which ushered in the Great Society and an era of liberal governance. Still others may point to 1993, the start of Clinton's first term, when Democrats pushed another liberal agenda, only to find that the country was resistant. Within two years, Democrats lost their congressional majorities.

Galston argued that 1993 may be closest to the mark, although he noted that the economic problems are far worse than those Clinton faced. But he said there was little evidence heading into yesterday's balloting that the country had taken a sharp left turn. "It's hard to say substantively what mandate Obama and the Democrats have gotten," he said. "They've gotten a chance to make their case."

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R) said the senator from Illinois can claim a personal mandate but should not assume the results signified an ideological election.

"You have to distinguish between the Obama machine -- ACORN, labor unions, -- and the personality, which is Oprah Winfrey, Paul Volcker, Warren Buffett and Colin Powell," he said. "One of the most important decisions Obama will make is which Obama will govern."

...One top adviser recalled what happened after the Democrats regained control of the House and Senate in the midterm elections and suggested they were ready to end the war in Iraq and enact a bold Democratic agenda. "We're all wary of the lessons of 2006, when expectations were raised so high prematurely," he said.

... Part of [the] strategy, he added, will be persuading people to be patient about the pace of change.

...Given the projected spending of $700 billion for a financial rescue package and hundreds of billions more for an economic stimulus package that Democrats say is needed, the deficit could approach $1 trillion or more next fiscal year, even without any of Obama's other priorities.

In the final stages of the campaign, Obama spoke in generalities about scrubbing the federal budget line by line, looking for cuts. He has yet to identify specific reductions, but soon after he is sworn in, his administration will have to present an alternative budget. At that point, Obama will reveal more of who he is.

If that budget appears pinched, he could face a revolt among congressional Democrats, especially in the House. "My own hunch is that Obama is smart enough not to want to govern as a liberal," said Peter Wehner, a former Bush administration official. "But he is going to have hydraulic pressure from the House and Senate to do that."...

Research director Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.

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