Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Congratulations President-Elect Obama! Now What?

What a ride. This election has been interminable and I think we're all thankful that it's over. well, maybe most of us, anyway. There will always be a hard core group on the losing side that can't let go and carries the vehemence and vitriol of the election over into the interregnum period. They are caught in a parallel universe of the never ending election. I hope they enjoy it there. I'd find it a horribly noxious place.

For the rest of us, we can now move forward into a new day and with a new American face to show the world.

Congratulations have been pouring in from my friends and relatives around the world. They are, without exception, ecstatic with our choice. Obama's election has reinvigorated many of us who always believed in our country and felt it had the potential to jump over it's own shadow and make such a departure from the past. More importantly, many who had despaired of America have been found their faith in this country reborn. I also believe that the mere fact of a President Obama will make life difficult for many of the hate mongers and anti-American forces abroad that decry our democracy and civil rights a sham. Obama spoke most forcefully on this subject himself, last night.

Now comes the inevitable question, "what now?" Truly that lies in all of our collective hands. The presidency is more than a symbol but it is also not the all powerful position many seem to think. The newly minted President Obama will inherit a horrific economic situation, two ongoing wars and the accumulated debt and deficits of the Bush era. On top of that he will have to deal with the limits of the office, something that Bush simply ignored with the complicity of the Republican - and later Democratic - majority in congress.

I have always argued that the President gets way too much credit for a good economy and too much blame for a bad one. They can, through use of the levers of power of the executive - regulation, enforcement etc. - push things strongly in one direction or another but they do not occupy the brand that makes legislation or sets the budget, that is congresses job. It’s time congress took their role more seriously. If they do, the new President may find one his challenges to be working constructively with congress while resisting it’s worst impulses. I expect President Obama to issue more vetoes, or veto threats, than President Bush. Still, the real power lies in congress and Obama will need a good strategy to deal with congress, even a congress of the same party. His mandate sized victory will help with this task. Many incoming congressmen and senators will have arrived there on the President’s coattails. In general, a large electoral victory provides a new President with significant cover in his dealings with the other branches of government and with the opposition.

President Obama will have another potential ace up his sleeve, though, you and me. Many people, especially on the right, denigrate Obama’s election slogans, “yes we can” and the, admittedly odd and awkward, “we are the change we’ve been looking for” as empty rhetorical devices. I think it’s clear that this President believes these phrases intensely. His entire campaign was built around not only the slogans but the fact of “we” making the change happen. Obama has presented himself as a leader, yes, but also the conduit through which we can personally effect change. During the election we effected change by making those $86 donations, $5, $10 and $25 at a time. We made calls to other voters, cajoling, arguing, encouraging and reminding them to vote for our candidate. We wrote email, we blogged, we spoke out about the issues and how we felt our candidate would be the best to address them. Every campaign depends on volunteers but the Obama campaign took this idea to new heights, making unprecedented use of the new communications technologies to link supporters with the campaign and each other.

I fully expect President Obama to call on us to continue to help him govern the way he asked us to help him achieve this office. Call me na├»ve but I think President Obama would be foolish to abandon such a resource. Aside from the obvious advantage of keeping this tool sharp for his re-election campaign, it is a tool without parallel for demonstrating grass roots voter support for the President’s positions. While there’s certain to be significant fall off in participation on the part of Obama supporters and we shouldn’t be expected to, nor will we, offer our support blindly regardless of the policy, keeping citizens directly involved will invest us in the outcomes and give us ownership of the policies in a way we’ve never experienced before on such a scale.

Obviously, this is not a blunt instrument to be used to bludgeon the President’s opponents and it must be used wisely and infrequently or “we” will quickly tire and grow disillusioned with our newfound involvement. We have lives to lead, jobs and families to attend to and our own local communities to manage. We have representative government for a number of good reasons and this is not meant to supplant that in any way. Rather, much as the many groups we may support ask us to contact our representative about a specific policy, the President may do the same.Such calls are not new. Presidents have requested such support in the past but the new administration possesses tools that previous administrations could not imagine and, as a result, the potency of such a call may be magnified many times over.

I had originally intended to write a simple post expressing my joy at the outcome of the election. And while that joy is undiminished, I felt it important to gird for the work to come. I’m confident that our new President will rise to the challenges that face us. I also hope and believe that he will engage us directly in the process.

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