How Obama can step it up

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

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.

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.

Republicans would be making a big mistake if they offer knee-jerk opposition to all that Obama suggests in healing the nation's teetering economy. In time of national crisis – and we are actually in an international one – political parties should stand together.

This does not mean surrender. It does not mean abdication of long-held principles. It does mean compromise to achieve worthy common goals in the face of crisis.

One of President Bush's noblest efforts during his presidency was to try to win solution to the looming problem of bankruptcy confronting Social Security. There was no political gain to be made from it. But Mr. Bush, instead of letting it confront a later administration and generation, thought it responsible to tackle it. The attempt foundered in a spineless Congress.

Much now arriving on the doorstep of this Congress from an activist White House will rouse Republican hackles. There will be sharp differences of opinion over health services. There will be philosophical differences over the expanding role of government in social engineering. But there should be no hesitation over late-night earmarks – a travesty embraced by both Republicans and Democrats – affixed to billions of the taxpayers' money intended to bring closure to the country's financial crisis. There should be common cause in scourging tone-deaf bankers and CEOs incapable of reining in extravagance and financial folly at the taxpayers' expense.

Republicans will be right to question budgets of trillions of dollars based on fanciful estimates of economic growth.

Republicans and Democrats will be right to express joint disbelief at Pentagon overruns and overpricing.

Democrats will be right to cry "foul" when Republicans, for political gain alone, try to block intelligent financial bailouts for worthy institutions.

We will not see a coalition regime of Republicans and Democrats, but we are entitled to see cooperation in time of national crisis.

Obama has announced plans, not only to apply salve to an ailing economy, but to introduce long-cherished liberal precepts. He faces a reelection challenge in four years. If he has misjudged the mood of the electorate, he may face a less cooperative Congress in two years.

That is not a long time to rally a fearful nation and heal its economic ills.

John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, is a professor of international communications at Brigham Young University.

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