Obama’s new political era
Democratic control of Washington brings unity but also new demands.
Barack Obama’s historic election as America’s first black president has ushered in a new political era at a time of tremendous challenge, both at home and abroad.Skip to next paragraph
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President-elect Obama, a Democrat, will have expanded Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, affording him the opportunity to address the nation’s problems without the level of partisan gridlock that has hobbled his predecessors. Still, Republicans will remain a factor in Congress, especially in the Senate, where Democrats did not pick up enough seats to reach a filibuster-proof majority. The larger Democratic majority also means a more diverse caucus, whose wishes must be taken into account.
Hopes for the Obama administration are exceedingly high, from many corners of society.
“Expectations are tremendous: from whites, that we are entering a postracial America; from blacks, that he’ll be able to solve all the problems,” says Ron Walters, director of the African-American Leadership Center at the University of Maryland.
“He needs to put a lot of that in context.”
Indeed, Obama’s victory speech Tuesday night from Chicago’s Grant Park alluded to the pressing issues he has already been grappling with, in anticipation of possible victory. Foremost among them are the economic crisis and two foreign wars.
“The road ahead will be long, our climb will be steep,” said Obama. “We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.”
Obama’s governing style remains an open question. He has never run a state or city government or a business, though his successful presidential campaign – an intricate operation involving thousands of moving parts – may provide some clues.
Obama put together a cohesive team that settled on what proved to be a winning strategy and did not waver, or erupt in internal drama, in the face of setbacks. Obama’s cool demeanor makes him appear enigmatic to some. But at a time of profound challenge, his temperament worked to his benefit as voters considered their options.
“One thing about Obama is he’s ‘planful’ – he’s a planner,” says Bruce Buchanan, a political scientist at the University of Texas at Austin. “The economy will come first. There are a ton of mean problems ahead that will involve allocation of pain and could splinter the coalition.”
But in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 20 inauguration, a nation that has struggled with racial strife since its founding will also take stock of the historic import of Obama’s election. His victory touched Americans of all hues, but perhaps none more so than African-Americans who had personally experienced a time when blacks had little opportunity for advancement.
News of Obama’s success left Mr. Bronson almost speechless. “I am very much satisfied,” he said.
It’s too soon to say whether the rise of Obama also signals a wholly new approach to government, much the way Franklin Roosevelt’s election in 1932 gave rise to the New Deal. But Obama has signaled swift action. Even before his election, he had been working with the congressional leadership on an economic-recovery package that includes an extension of unemployment benefits and new spending on infrastructure. Obama has also promised to address Iraq on his first day in office. Healthcare reform remains central, but given the economic crisis, it is unclear how soon he can push for it.