By JAMES H. "SMOKEY" SHOTT
Today, Jan. 20, the United States of America will transfer power as it has 43 times before, as Barack H. Obama is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. This time the event carries special significance: for the first time in our history, a black man will become president.
Since he’s a newcomer to the national stage, Mr. Obama doesn’t have a long or detailed record. We really don’t know what he will do as president; all we have to go on is what he said since the campaign began, during which time we have seen three different incarnations of Barack Obama: Barack I, the hard left liberal candidate for the Democratic nomination; Barack II, a more moderate liberal Democrat nominee seeking the presidency; and Barack III, the president-elect, setting up his administration before taking office.
Along the way to winning the election, Mr. Obama demonstrated some truly special talents. He gives stirring speeches, ranking alongside great orators like John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and even, some say, Abraham Lincoln.
He ran a good campaign, something his more experienced opponent, John McCain, did not do.
He attracted a lot of attention and support with appeals to “hope” and “change.” Yes, they are empty words, and completely predictable. You can’t win an election against a party that currently is in office by pledging to maintain the status quo. But the rhetoric was nonetheless effective.
Mr. Obama seemed to know that he was going to win, because he frequently used props like those a real president has and did things that a real president does. Like, for example, sporting the Great Seal of Obama that looked far too much like the Presidential Seal; flying in a plane called “O Force One”; moving his nomination acceptance speech out of a not-nearly-large-enough convention center to a football stadium with the capacity to hold many tens of thousands, and adorning it with Grecian columns for special effect; taking a presidential world tour, as if he was actually the president; and creating the fairy tale Office of the President-elect. Such audacious behavior might be viewed as the height of arrogance, or as merely creative. You decide.
But what the world looks like to a presidential candidate trying to dislodge the party that occupies the White House is very different than what it looks like to a real president, and since winning the election Mr. Obama has begun learning the difference between being a candidate and being the president. The latter is a lot harder than it looks from the outside, where criticizing the incumbent’s every word and deed is routine, but which may lead one to underestimate just how tough a job being president of the United States really is.
President-elect Obama’s efforts to fill his administration show clearly that reality has begun to set in.
Some of his appointments garner approval from political supporters and opponents alike, but some appointments draw criticism from his own party and the admirers for whom he could do no wrong only weeks and months before. Some of the appointees have things in their past that shock our sensibilities, like Timothy Geithner, who failed to make thousands of dollars in tax payments, while others have a strong ideological bent, like Carol Browner’s acknowledged socialist ideology; and still others seem very sensible, like the hold-over choice of Robert Gates at Defense.
Administrative appointments aside, Mr. Obama inherits many serious situations with which he must deal. Of course everything will be blamed on President Bush; that’s the way politics works. Those who see the world as it really is, however, realize that Mr. Bush is not solely responsible for all the bad things going on today, such as the economic crisis, and that he is primarily responsible for some good things, like the highly effective efforts to thwart terrorist attacks here at home.
Mr. Obama is about to find out what happens when the rubber meets the road. He has created extremely high expectations for himself with PR devices like comparisons to Abraham Lincoln, such as the train ride into D.C., the stunts that have convinced many that he really is The One.
He will get the honeymoon all new presidents get, which normally lasts a few months, during which time he will be getting his feet under him, trying to figure it all out. And since the mainstream media is in love with him, his honeymoon may last longer than usual. But if he isn’t able to turn things around in six months to a year, the recession, the Iraq war, Guantanamo Bay and all the other problems become his.
Now we will watch Barack IV, who takes the hot seat today. For the good of the country we must wish him well and support him when he makes good decisions and produces good results. To the extent that he succeeds, America will prosper.
And as good Americans we must oppose him when we believe he is wrong. But we must avoid heaping the sort of deranged, idiotic criticism on Barack Obama that George W. Bush’s enemies heaped on him.
James H. “Smokey” Shott, a resident of Bluefield, Va., is a Daily Telegraph columnist.