We elected him, so now let’s get to work

This article was originally published in The Clarion Call.

Obama showed in the election his ability to convince voters to support his policies, but the test now is whether he can translate that ability to effect change within government itself.Barack Obama’s first week as president of the United States is in the history books, and what a week it’s been. The new president is obviously eager to demonstrate his commitment to changing the disastrous policies we’ve come to know and hate under the Bush regime.

He already has ordered the infamous prison facility at Guantanamo Bay to close within a year, lifted the ban on states from setting their own fuel efficiency standards, reversed the so-called “Global Gag Rule,” a ban on foreign aid to groups that offer advice on abortion, and ordered the military to begin designing a plan to withdraw from Iraq in 16 months.

Today, Obama will sign his first bill into law, reversing a recent Supreme Court decision that restricted the ability of workers to sue for pay discrimination.

While it’s too early to judge – we are barely into the crucial “first 100 days” of the Obama presidency – it seems that Obama, despite attempts by the House Republicans to hold the latest round of economic stimulus hostage to demands for more and deeper tax cuts, has indeed delivered on his promise to “hit the ground running” in these trying times.

The question on many Americans’ minds now is: “can he go the distance?”

It is vitally important that those who voted for change in November pressure the government to deliver change that is real and lasting.Going the distance will require vigilance and fortitude, not only on Obama’s part, but also on the part of those who elected him, to pressure him to deliver on the promises made on the campaign trail.

Obama promised to change the approach to fighting terrorism, and has already made great strides toward getting us out of Iraq and ending the Bush torture regime in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. And yet, we must be careful he does not trade a disastrous quagmire in Iraq for one in Afghanistan, or capitulate to pressure from the right to keep the torture chambers open.

Obama entered office with the highest approval rating since John F. Kennedy – 69 percent – and has been using that immense support since even before taking office to shape policy from the bully pulpit. Obama showed in the election his ability to convince voters to support his policies, but the test now is whether he can translate that ability to effect change within government itself.

He has already shown that to some extent. In lifting the federal ban on states setting their own fuel efficiency standards, he did so in the face of decades of auto industry pressure to keep standards low across the nation. In the economic stimulus bill, still being hammered out in Congress, Obama has led the Democrats’ fight to eliminate earmarks, secure funding for transit, and hold the line against calls to continue the reckless tax cuts of the Bush years.

Over the coming months, President Obama will complete what he has started this week – laying the groundwork for his administration’s policy apparatus. What happens now will determine what happens over the next four (or eight) years, which is why it is vitally important that those who voted for change in November pressure the government to deliver change that is real and lasting.

Obama has a unique opportunity to be an agent of that change, coming into office in these turbulent times.

Whether he becomes the next Franklin Roosevelt or the next Jimmy Carter is up to us.

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