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Obama: uphill challenges

President-elect Barack Obama will be sworn into office as the nation’s 44th president on Jan. 20, 2009. There will be no “hanging chads” or recounting of votes in Florida and no controversy over who won the popular vote, although the latter was fairly close.

We still have a country divided — many rural states voted for McCain and large urban-center states in the Northeast and on the West Coast carried Obama. The electoral college vote — decisively Obama.

Our new president has his work cut out for him, especially on the international front. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could decide the future of the Middle East. At the same time, an intricate rat’s nest of terrorism threatens to drive the region back to the Dark Ages. Obama must quell saber-rattling wackos like North Korean leader Kim Jong il and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and keep the reins tight on the imperialism of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

At home, he must deal with a broken credit market, a financial sector in turmoil, low consumer confidence and complicated energy issues. In agriculture, which he truly seems to have a spot in his heart for, volatile markets have hogtied hedgers and cut into potential profits for producers.

While these challenges loom large, Obama, like other presidents immediately before him, may not want to push his campaign agenda too far, too quickly.

On the night of the election, I heard one political analyst say that the ideal political party configuration for the economy is a Democratic president and a Republican legislature. Next was a Republican president and a Democratic legislature, followed by an all-Democratic president and legislature. Pulling up the rear was an all-Republican president and legislature.

Whether you agree with this assessment or not, what it says is that this country appears to do best economically when there is a balance between Republican and Democratic ideas, not when one party or another has full reign to push its agenda.

Americans react to such pushes with disdain. When Bill Clinton turned his health care plan over lock, stock and barrel to his wife, Hillary, its monumental failure led to an ousting of Democrats in the U.S. Congress in 1994, which shifted the balance of power to Republicans.

After the terrorists attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush was well within his moral authority to wipe out the Taliban in Afghanistan, pursue Osama bin Laden to hills of Tora Bora and pledge a war on terrorism. His foray into Iraq defined his presidency, however, and by the end of his term, the balance of power in Congress shifted again to Democrats.

In politics, you can be sure that those who refused to blame President Clinton for the problems that President Bush inherited will now blame Bush for the problems that President-elect Obama will inherit.

But will Obama resist those who see his victory as a mandate to push hard for all his campaign goals? Considering the turmoil he faces, I suggest a break from the path of past presidents — plot a thoughtful, measured course to solve the problems at hand first and foremost.


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