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How Obama can step it up

He must echo Churchill's resolve, but Republicans owe more support, too.

By John Hughes / March 5, 2009

Provo, Utah

Less than eight weeks in office, Barack Obama has defined a course for his presidency which, if he is reelected, might take him eight years to implement.

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At home, he is fulfilling his election campaign promise of change with sweeping plans for burgeoning government influence and trillion-dollar budgets.

Abroad, he is going to wind down one war, in Iraq, and expand another, in Afghanistan.

As one of the most elegant orators of our times, he has unveiled the scope of these ambitious plans with phrases that are at times Churchillian. But Winston Churchill, who promised Britons in World War II years of "blood, toil, tears, and sweat," also infused embattled Britain with confidence in the ultimate outcome. Mr. Obama has not yet done that for Americans. There is still at large in the United States a psychology of fear and uncertainty about an economy in distress, as exemplified by reticent buyers, reluctant lenders, and a plunging stock market.

"Yes we can," Americans are told, but they are left after clinical explanations from the Obama camp with a sneaking suspicion that maybe we can't. In part this is because Obama and his lieutenants, in laudable pursuit of transparency, keep underlining the challenges and uncertainties ahead.

Vice President Biden may have taken transparency further than the president wished when he warned that after gargantuan effort by the administration, there might still be a 30 percent chance of getting it wrong. That is not a margin of error we can accept. One shudders to think what Churchill might have done to a lieutenant who uttered such a defeatist remark as the German bombs whistled down. Instead we got from Obama a tight little smile.

It is this controlled Obama coolness, this occasional air of aloofness, that I find troubling. I'd like to see a little more passion, a little more Churchill-like "we will fight on the beaches" and "never surrender" stuff.

Clearly, as the polls show, Americans have a lot of respect for Obama. But that respect seems not to have translated into confidence that he can lead them back to the promised land. Uncertainty about the ending of our troubled times is feeding the psychology of fear. I am not urging some Bush-like braggadocio; that is not Obama's style. But we could do with some "victory is certain" morale-boosting.