What An Obama Presidency Should (And Might) Look Like

by Michael Oluwagbemi II

I have avoided writing anything on the potential explosive US presidential race in order to avoid “the jinx”, since I did so when Barack Obama swept to an unlikely and explosive victory in the Iowa caucus earlier in the year. True to form and the “jinx”, he lost the New Hampshire primaries held the same day I published that article on how his presidency will shape America – guess I have no luck. But headed to the final rounds of the two year slug fest called elections, I feel confident that this country will finally turn the page on the disastrous eight years of republican government: one of economic deregulation and disaster, of cronyism and slash-divide politics, of international antagonism, preemptive warfare and cowboy foreign policy. If anything, Barack Obama presidency is made possible because the United States of America have had a nightmare of a government in the past eight years.

Much as I expect that a vast majority of Americans will keep faith with Barack and his train of hope when they head into the polling booth, it will be left to a President Obama to keep his side of the bargain when he assumes power. Campaigning sure has been hard, but governing a country torn down by political schism, ideological underpinnings and a great economic depression will be legions of multiples harder than winning an election: irrespective of the odds and natural barriers placed in Obama’s path. Hence, the hard work starts on November 5th – not January 20th. First, a President Obama must not make the mistake of his two predecessors who wrongly interpreted their mandate as one to ram down their policies down the throat of the country: but as a call to unify the country in a purposeful manner to achieve common goals. In this direction, seeking allies in the opposition (the Republican Party) – and a depleted one for that matter is the first call of an Obama administration in transition.

Doing so should be particularly easier, considering the number of well earned endorsements that Barack got from the other side of the aisle. These endorsements including but not limited to General Powell and Governor Wells, two prominent republicans, should form a bridge of cooperation to the other side. The last eight years was not a repudiation of conservative principles per se, but their application. Hence, Barack must be open to picking those good conservative ideas be it of restrained spending, personal responsibility- themes that will serve him well as he works hard to rebuild the country. Barack should also not underestimate the ability of old hands in his party- be it in the Senate or House of Representatives -to undermine his agenda. He can learn a lesson from the early Clinton administration that did a poor job of courting the political class within his own party and paid for it. He looks like he had enough practice already with appeasement: at least he did so successfully with Hillary and her PUMA acolytes after the primaries- then bitter opponents but now fierce supporters.

Second task for a new president will be building a capable team. An Obama administration should harness the best and brightest of American minds irrespective of ideological leanings or affiliations. It is my considerate belief that an Obama administration absolutely should have prominent centrists, conservatives and liberals in no short supply. Chuck Hagel with either the Secretary of State or Defense portfolio will be terrific.

The immediate priorities of the new administration should be stemming the tide of economic troubles caused by the bad decisions and indecisions of the past eight years. First, a roll back of the tax cut for wealthiest Americans, plugging of corporate tax loopholes and a redistribution (yes, I used that ugly word) of the accruals to the middle class should spur consumer spending (the rich don’t spend: the poor and the middle class does) in the short term. A carefully targeted economic stimulus package that enhances infrastructure spending and encourage small businesses to hire, both which helps plug job losses stemming from the recession in the short term, and some reform of the bankruptcy laws to allow people keep their homes should also be on the table. Also, a reexamination of the $700bn bail package to ensure that banks that draw money are lending them, and that those that hold bad sub prime and Alt A home loans are willing to restructure such mortgages in order to keep a floor below falling house prices, and stem the bad news on Wall Street. Also, an enactment of hardnosed regulations to reflect the realities of the 21st century and confront greed in Wall Street should also be a priority short term.

In Obama’s own words- domestically, Healthcare, Energy and Education in that order are priorities of an Obama presidency – it is great to have a president that can prioritize. The immediate fixes to the healthcare problems should bear the transparency and free market approach that was lacking in the “Clintonian” approach to the problem. Energy reforms starting with an emissions cap trading system that punishes polluters and uses such funds to invest in alternative energy should spur a new economy and is capable of creating new industries and jobs. Job retraining program targeted at minorities and the lower classes to participate in this new economy like fixing solar panels on home, fitting energy conserving devices and even owning these businesses should be an abiding legacy of an Obama presidency in the African-American and Hispanic communities.

More so, education reforms with hiring new and well paid teachers at its heart, and holding them accountable will not only create new better paying jobs (yes, Teachers reward should be on earth too) but should spur a realignment in the African American community where education should regain the priority it deserves. A private-public partnership with the foundations of big purse endorsers like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet to build and operate new inner city charter schools run by these private foundations may be a solid signature achievement that will reward the sagacity of the Obama’s most reliable voting bloc since the democratic primaries. Yes, it is politics: votes need be rewarded. A well educated minority class is beneficial to the entire American economy, and enhances opportunities for everyone; couples with the symbolism of an Obama presidency a return to education that produced the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King and Dr. Du Bois will move the black community in the right direction they should be heading: re-emphasizing education as a tool for the new black renaissance.

At the international scene, Obama’s impact can best be felt with an immediate cessation of conflict in Iraq involving the US troops. This also has an economic dimension as the $10 billion splurged monthly will find home somewhere else instead of in making guns, bullets and bombs of war: to kill, maim and prosecute an unjust and dumb war. A reengagement of US allies and foes alike to find cooperative solutions to the problems of loose nukes, rogue nations and faltering social order in places like Darfur, Congo, and Georgia- hotbeds for potential explosive conflicts should also be a focus of his government. In any case, global leadership at this period of financial meltdown is an imperative, and Obama can provide that international leadership to fix the holes in the rickety global regulatory framework- the leadership George Bush has been unable to provide.

Reforming the IMF, the World Bank and the UN can also be a lasting legacy of his years. Steps are already being taken by Gordon Brown not only to encourage China, India and Middle Eastern nations to contribute more to IMF, but to also have more say in its activity. The quasi post WW2 order of exclusive western leadership of the Bretton-Woods institutions must be discarded for more transparent and capable meritocracy based leadership that puts the people of the world first before corporations. The characteristic propagation of supply side economics by these institutions under the current control of economic hit men must also be exchanged for more commonsensical approach and a decentralization of the policy arm of the institutions to ensure they are in touch with the lives their decisions impact; the oft talked about UN reforms need also be jumpstarted.

Great or good presidents are not only known for implementing effective programs, they are also known for confronting long term problems. FDR tackled the problems of old age poverty with social security, Kennedy and LBJ tackled the problems of racial inequality and poverty with civil rights and Medicare, and Reagan faced down the social security and immigration issues for the medium term. Well, Reagan in my opinion is not a great President – that belongs to FDR and JFK…he was a good one. A good president confronts the long term problems, but does not provide a lasting solution. Reagan’s fixes for social security and immigration has unraveled in a series of missteps and by unbridled partisanship in DC for the past 25 years. Now is the time to fix these for long-term.

Obama does not appear to have committed himself to doing this fix; it is understandable. History is replete with presidents that made big promises and could not deliver (think George W. Bush). While it is true that Obama must avoid being bogged down by the big stuff in his first term, these big problems also presents an opportunity for him to work in bipartisan manner and try to get the best minds to tackle the problem for the long-term. The Reagan approach is commendable: bipartisan panels to study these issues, and legislative fix from them that is subjected to up or down vote in congress. Appointing John McCain to lead an immigration panel is a win-win situation for a man who has vaunted his ability to work with democrats; it also presents a challenge for McCain who is from Arizona and where immigration is a sensitive issue. The same can also be said of Social Security. Florida GOP Senator J. Martinez will be a good pick to chair such commission: Florida is home to many seniors and Martinez is more likely to approach such task in a non-ideological manner than a republican senator from Alabama. These panels should be allowed a comprehensive study through his first term, for a potential implementation if the real President Obama delivers and is rewarded with a second term. Good Luck Mr. President, it is a new morning!

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