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Can Obama Do Change?

Jerome Grossman

Immediately after his election, President-elect Barack Obama was properly deferential to George W. Bush and the U.S. Constitution: "We have only one president at a time." However, it has not worked out that way. Obama has dominated the news every day, with multiple press conferences announcing his teams of advisors and Cabinet appointments while answering questions on foreign and domestic policies. At the same time he makes personal appearances (60 minutes, Meet the Press, etc.) designed to establish close relationships with the citizens.

Clearly, the U.S. has two presidents in effect. As Bush recedes in public consciousness, the outgoing president seems baffled by the Obama phenomenon. Plaintively, he told Charlie Gibson on ABC television that he ran for president in 2000 on a program for change and before that had been elected governor of Texas promising change. Then he giggled.

Some Obama supporters are questioning his appointments drawn from the pool of establishment figures who had worked in high positions in the Clinton and Bush administrations. They worry whether such people can deliver the change promised by Obama in his presidential campaign. There are also complaints that significant sectors of the electorate are unrepresented, particularly labor, liberals and anti-Iraq war activists. Obama supporters also worry that he will not receive a full range of options from teams of centrist advisors. While his appointment of Republicans will give the president the views of the right, it is not matched by views from the left. And this is a Democratic president.


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When asked to respond to this situation, Obama says that he is the changer, the idea man, that his appointees were the best qualified to carry out his changes. However, as brilliant as he is, Obama is unlikely to know the full range of options and possibilities and history to change the way the government works in foreign and domestic policies. No one could.

With nostalgia, Obama supporters remember the glory days of the campaign when their candidate led the enormous crowds chanting "We are the people we have been waiting for," emphasizing repeatedly the mantra that change will bubble up from the people. They remember the repeated calls for "Change we can believe in," and the denunciation of lobbyists: "When I am president, they won't find a job in my White House."

These questions have not affected Obama's popularity, now at new heights. Most Americans along with most of the rest of the world are overjoyed that the failed Bush presidency is almost over and that America has repudiated its racist past by electing an African-American as president. Love is in the air but after the honeymoon, Obama will have to deliver.

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Jerome Grossman is a political activist and commentator, particularly on the issues of weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons. A self-styled "relentless liberal", Grossman played roles in many electoral campaigns and efforts to end the Vietnam War and the Iraq War.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, raised in Brookline, he lived in Newton for 30 years, then in Wellesley for 30 years where he now resides. A 1938 graduate of Harvard College, Grossman has taught at Tufts University and Palm Beach Community College. He is the author of Relentless Liberal (New York, Vantage Press, 1996) and many newspaper and magazine articles.

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