Great expectations

November 10, 2008 at 4:54 pm | Posted in Barack Obama | Leave a comment

Because of the breadth of what he accomplished in the most desperate times, Franklin Roosevelt’s first 100 days will remain the benchmark against which all Presidencies are set. This is a little harsh on his successors: first, no President has inherited problems on anywhere near the scale as FDR, but secondly, we have to recognise that the industry of politics has made change much harder to accomplish than in the 1930’s. Regardless of the mandate he receives from the people or the majority he enjoys in Congress, the next President will still have to steer a course through a minefield of opposition groups, special interests, corporate lobbyists and a hostile media, not to mention both houses of Congress.

So let’s begin with a reality check: once President Obama’s first 100 days are up, America will still have troops stationed in Iraq, Americans still won’t have universal health care, and the dramatic action required to combat climate change will still be a draft bill being haggled over in Congress. If Obama is to make good on some of his loftiest goals, they certainly won’t happen in his first four months, a fact he has been honest enough to acknowledge from the outset. But, as Katrina vanden Heuvel argues, his first hundred days can still be a statement of intent, and a laying of the foundations to make those ambitions possible.

For a start, there is still much good a President can do without requiring the consent of Congress. Reports indicate that Obama’s team is already working to roll back the worst executive decisions of the Bush era: removing the ‘global gag rule’, reversing the limit for federal funding of stem cell research, giving California – one of the highest polluting states in the Union – the freedom to impose strict new emissions regulations. On top of revoking the awful executive orders Bush signed, from the moment he enters the Oval Office, Obama can – and must – declare an end to the torture of terror suspects, and plan for the eventual closure of Guantanamo Bay.

As the Katrina debacle, ‘Plamegate‘ and the US attorney scandal proved, under Bush the federal government became infested with malevolent ideologues and barely-competent partisan hacks. A new Presidency will bring management changes across the federal government, and there is strong reason to believe that the Monica Goodlings of the world will already be looking for jobs elsewhere.

On the environment, whilst it might take as much as two years for cap & trade to make it through Congress, there are still positive steps the new President can take towards reducing carbon emissions. As part of the stimulus package to restart the country’s failing economy, many are speculating that Obama may set money aside for initiatives which create ‘green jobs’. In addition, he can strengthen the Environmental Protection Agency (ironically the brainchild of Richard Nixon) to regulate the greenhouse gases pumped out of power stations, and order all Federal Government buildings to become more energy efficient.

The next President won’t be able to achieve the same kind of fundamental change in the same timescale as Roosevelt – no President could. But if we’re to believe the old maxim that politics is the art of the possible, then we can already identify countless small steps Obama could take on the slow road to meeting his supporters’ great expectations. Either way, it will only be after the first thousand days that we’re able to judge whether he lived up to his promise, and whether he was worth all that breathless hope.

(Image taken by Flickr user dcJohn (Creative Commons)

Update: He doesn’t waste much time, this lad:

Barack Obama will move swiftly to close Guantanamo Bay as soon as he takes office, his aides revealed today, a clear and early sign of how aggressively he wants to break with President Bush the moment he is sworn in.

Mr Obama is planning to ship dozens of terror suspects from the prison to face criminal trial in the US as part of a plan to shut the jail down. It is a controversial move but one that demonstrates how abruptly he plans to change Washington in terms of policy, personnel and tone the moment he enters the Oval Office.

He better not keep moving with this much haste, otherwise this whole post will have been pointless.

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