Which Change Would Obama Bring?

The Obama team and its ardent supporters have been declaring something that the candidate himself sure wishes they wouldn’t—a 100% guaranteed (Nancy Pelosi) big-time Obama win.

The Obama team and its ardent supporters have been declaring something that the candidate himself sure wishes they wouldn’t—a 100% guaranteed (Nancy Pelosi) big-time Obama win. Sure seems McCain is right that there’s a lot of drape measuring going on among the Obamacons.Having said that, I’m going to commit a similar sin. Let’s assume the polls and electoral count projections are fairly accurate and that Obama is coming in for a nice soft landing on Pennsylvania Avenue. What’s the big question he’d be answering very, very soon into his presidency? If you’re thinking it’s ‘Is he ready to be president?’ you’re wrong. It’s unlikely that he’ll demonstrate within a couple of months as president whether he can master the levers of office and steer the nation adeptly through crisis. There’s a lag effect with such things—the competency of moves to, say, restore confidence in the economy or consolidate gains in Iraq become clear over time.The question he will answer quickly is this one: “Was Obama Telling the Truth About Change?” I don’t mean will he bring about dramatic changes, per se. I mean will he bring about the change that he touted most loudly on the campaign trail: a vision of reaching across the aisle to work on the nation’s large problems in a bi-partisan fashion. Obama has said he will listen to all arguments, bring some Republicans into his administration, work toward consensus for the good of the country.That all sounds good. Americans like to be governed from the center.But consider the pressures on Obama if the Democrats win big across the board on November 4. Imagine large majorities in both House and Senate, so that Obama doesn’t have to worry about such things as a Republican filibuster. Obama will have Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, MoveOn.org and labor unions (the list goes on) telling him that there are no obstacles to liberal legislation. Go for it—all of it. Move the country sharply to the left because that’s the new mandate.Obama, like every new president, will know that he has a limited few months (the much-hyped “first 100 days”) to launch dramatic changes. So he will decide very quickly whether he will choose the direction of partisan advantage, wide-open to him, or the direction of inclusive governance. His appointments will be the first strong hint, but the legislative agenda will be the clincher. Just as Democrats like to talk about who was in the room with Vice President Cheney when he worked on energy policy, plenty of people will be noting who’s in the room with Obama as he devises his legislative battle plan.We will find out something very fundamental about President Obama because he’ll have no brakes on him other than his own professed desire to unite the country in common cause. Will he become an easy mark for every liberal interest group that feels they’re owed something? Or will he do what McCain and others have insisted he won’t do, and accept the wrath of his party’s left by working with the middle and even, at times, with the dreaded right? The answer will unfold quickly, and with it, the answer to that most fundamental question, “Was Obama Telling the Truth About Change?”Bill Beaman is editor-in-chief at Politics magazine. wbeaman@politicsmagazine.com

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