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Obama’s integrity will ensure his success

February 19, 2009

The economy is in the pits, social and political conflicts are brewing around the world, and, judging by the paltry number of Republican votes for the stimulus package, bipartisanship in Washington is apparently dead. So why should Americans still be excited about Barack Obama and his administration of hope and change?
First, President Obama has brought great energy to the causes of national unity and economic recovery. In addition, the fact that he has attempted to run the White House differently than his predecessor—a transparent transition process and the executive order closing the Guantanamo Bay prison are just two examples of this—speaks volumes to the American people and shows that they have a leader who will stick to his campaign promises.
Additionally, it is important to point out that it has only been a few weeks since the new president was inaugurated. Making significant changes in Washington takes time, especially since our last president spent eight years stoking the fires of partisan warfare and draining the public’s confidence in its government. And let’s not forget that he started two costly and mismanaged wars that have only served to exacerbate ethnic, sectarian, and regional conflicts in what is arguably the most dangerous part of the world today.
Despite such early successes and unavoidable obstacles to ushering in quick change, two large questions loom over the new administration: First, why have the attempts at bipartisanship on Capitol Hill failed thus far? And second, should we be concerned about the problems that Obama has had filling his Cabinet posts?
The answer to the first question requires taking a look at the past eight years. After the partisan battles and Republican domination of Congress and policymaking during the Bush years, it is a small wonder that the debate over the recent stimulus package—an issue that involves wrangling with the core philosophical and ideological differences between the Democratic and Republican parties—was so civil. Yes, the vast majority of conservatives on the Hill voted against the measure, and yes, Judd Gregg did unceremoniously withdraw his nomination for Commerce Secretary. But unlike former President George W. Bush, President Obama spent many of his precious hours with Congressmen and Senators—Republicans in particular—seeking compromise.
Though he many not have much Washington experience, President Obama will accomplish much during his administration if he continues to at least attempt to build strong relationships with those across the aisle, even if those attempts do not immediately translate into Republican votes for his initiatives. If he can forge friendships with Republicans based on mutual respect, they will eventually vote for his measures.
After eight years of a president who stoked bitter battles along partisan lines, the support from Republicans, seen through the passage of the stimulus package, will not come quickly or easily. But it will come. As politicians and the public alike see the president as the rational and moderate man he truly is, a measure of bipartisanship is sure to return to Washington.
President Obama’s true character is evident in his candor towards mistakes, particularly with regard to failed Cabinet appointments. His acceptance of responsibility for each failed Cabinet appointment—except for Judd Gregg, who withdrew his nomination due to ideological conflicts, not tax issues—represents a welcome departure from the Bush administration’s abuse of executive power euphemized by the term “executive privilege” and embodied by a disturbing lack of dissemination of information to the public about the administration’s actions. President Obama’s reaction to these mistakes has served to underscore one of his core beliefs when it comes to running the government: transparency.
With these reactions, President Obama has set a precedent that will force political leaders of any kind to be straightforward to the public about who they are and what mistakes they might have made. Though it certainly is not ideal that several Cabinet appointees have chosen to rescind their nomination bids, it is not a trend to be concerned about, for the president has taken full responsibility for these mistakes and has shown a willingness to run a fully transparent administration.
It is clear that the Obama administration, though already challenged in Congress, is off to a good start. It has already passed a key stimulus bill, showing Americans that it is serious about putting the country back on track economically. But more importantly, it has laid a foundation for a new way of doing business in Washington, a foundation that will continue to be built upon for weeks, months, and years to come.

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