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Associated Press/Photo by Susan Walsh

Remaking America

A transformational presidency begins at a transformational moment

Issue: "The Obama era," Feb. 14, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C.-Among the rumble of cheers lifting off the National Mall as 2 million Americans celebrated firsthand last month's inauguration were small singular voices: "Today we are the special ones." "This is our time."

With Democrats in charge of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue for the first time since 1994, transformation of government by the party of Jackson and Roosevelt begins at the top but is sure to reach into the inner workings of every government agency. Just how will the Obama administration govern an America that Obama himself describes as full of "gathering clouds and raging storms"?

As the first African-Americans to occupy the White House, Obama along with his wife Michelle are sure to bring to the capital a new iconography. But hope and anticipation must make way for the pedestrian challenges of policymaking. Now the hard part begins.

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Obama set his own bar high in his inaugural address, enlisting Americans in an effort whose goal is "reaffirming the greatness of our nation" and "remaking America." At the same time he pledged America to be "a friend to all nations."

The first challenge: making and ending war. In Afghanistan he has promised greater attention and more troops. In Iraq he has pledged to be out within 16 months.

Of equal or greater challenge is an economy that continues to shed jobs at an alarming rate, spreading global recession with no end in sight.

With an $800 billion-plus stimulus package already before Congress mere months after a $700 billion bailout passed, the relationship between America's government and its citizens is facing a fundamental transformation, says Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center: "We are on a path to European-style socialism where the traditional American character of enterprise, entrepreneurism, and risk-taking may be worn down over time as we become increasingly dependent on the state."

As Obama tackles tough decisions, voters will learn quickly whether he will govern more from the moderate center or from the far left. They also will learn how serious he is about making bipartisanship a priority. And they will learn if he is able to tap into the sizable reservoir of young voters who were with him during his campaign but may lose interest in day-to-day policymaking.

Then they will discover how the 47-year-old president plans to remake the courts, what federal programs he will grow, which he might cut, and how he plans to address rising health-care and energy costs.

Advising Obama are 22 men and nine women profiled in the following pages-most are Washington insiders and Clinton holdovers, with eight outsiders, and three Bush holdouts.

Public goodwill is high for the new administration, but Wehner said the public is going to expect the Obama team to produce: "Pretty soon it will be his economy and his country, and he will be held accountable if things don't get better or if they get worse."

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Crisis management team: New Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and National Economic Council head Lawrence Summers aren't disliked in conservative circles and headline a team of ideological moderates

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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