Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hope at High Noon

At noon today, Barack Obama becomes the 44th president of the United States. Here’s hoping that he is such a smashing success that he gets busted onto Mt. Rushmore and his face knocks Thomas Jefferson’s right off the nickel.

The presidency is always a heavy burden, but I have profound respect and compassion for anyone who would take on the leadership of the free world at this particular time. The economy is in ghastly shape and, around the globe, very bad men continue to plot the death of civilians in general and Americans in particular.

Here, one might cue the rubbish and rhubarb about how badly George W. Bush botched the last eight years, getting the nation into this fix. But many of these problems were decades in the making and are larger than one man. In any case, as the United States turns the page, one hopes the 16-year national pastime of hating the president (Bush Derangement Syndrome having been preceded by two terms of Clinton Hatred) is at an end.

Right now, America needs a president who has the endorsement of a majority of its citizens. Whatever your politics, Obama is that man today. The foreign and domestic problems facing the United States are such that a peaceful consensus is a necessary first step to solving them. Whether folks supported candidate Obama or not – and few commentators in Canada were as critical of him as I was – he is president now and we will all be better off if he does well.

I was wrong about Obama in many ways – not least, about his prospects for getting elected – and I hope I continue to be. To wit, he has shown signs of being a thoughtful pragmatist – advocating business investment tax cuts and retaining Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense, for example – rather than the left-wing ideologue he seemed to be during the primaries. Moreover, he has already made many of the right people mad. Rep. Barney Frank (D.-MA) is upset that Rev. Rick Warren is giving Obama’s inaugural invocation; Sen. John Kerry (D.-MA) is upset that he is not Secretary of State; Sen. Harry Reid (D.-NV) is upset about being Sen. Harry Reid (D.-NV). With these folks up in arms, Obama is off to a good start.

He has reached across the aisle, attempting to secure Republican support for his proposed stimulus package. To be sure, this is largely a political manoeuvre, to provide bipartisan cover for the 2010 midterm elections in case the legislation fails to right the economy, but it is a sensible approach. A week ago, Obama had a two-hour private dinner with conservative commentators at the home George F. Will. It was an informal, off-the-record meeting for the purpose of exchanging ideas. Such early-administration overtures have been tried before with middling success – recall Bush inviting Sen. Ted Kennedy to the White House for movie night in 2001 – but it is still the right thing to do.

Over the next four or eight years, there will doubtless be cause to criticize Obama, and I will likely sing a solo or two in that chorus. I prefer to think that such disagreement, whenever and for whatever reason it comes, will be based on legitimate policy, in contrast to partisans who refuse to give the man a chance. Step-on-a-crack silly-bears is no kind of loyal opposition. For example, to those conspiracy-minded stragglers who still obsess over whether Obama was born in Hawaii or a manger in Burkina Faso, I suggest moving on. The Constitution and people of the United States are satisfied that Obama is a natural-born citizen and anyway, what a man chooses to do with his life means more than how and where it began. Obama is a bona fide success story and his opponents would do well to recognize his qualities.

On his first day in office, there is such widespread adoration for the man that one wonders: Whither Obama’s admirers when it is revealed, inevitably, that he is less than perfect? No one can know for certain, but loyal Americans, and all those who hope for peace and freedom in the world, should wish this new president Godspeed.


Theo Caldwell, President of Caldwell Asset Management, Inc., is an investment advisor in the United States and Canada.