The President-Elect has met, and exceeded, many early expectations just by getting to this point. Starting Tuesday at noon, though, the slate is wiped clean and a whole new set of expectations begin.
Turning campaign-stump rhetoric and positive imagery into real, workable policy has eluded many a leader, regardless of the amount of lovin' exuded by the masses - this most recently illustrated by Victor Yushchenko and Ukraine's Orange Revolution.
Obama was to begin his first term 100m behind the start line, thanks to George Bush's 8 years in office: two wars; covert prisons; a damaged international reputation; a record trade deficit that all need serious attention from the get-go. The recent months of "economic meltdown" is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it further scatters the prism of issues that he needs to focus on in his first months in office. The silver lining is that he will likely be able to jump-start to some of his plans and ideas as he presides over the meting out of an astonishingly large stimulus package into strategic infrastructure and social programs.
Obama has made it clear that this isn't a case of one man with a dozen or so cabinet disciples that are going to hand-hold the American people into a better country. He has been clear throughout his campaign that his administration is going to contain 350 million people. In his speech in Philadelphia on Saturday he stated:
What is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives -- from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry -- an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels.
He has invoked the idea of 'community' - the traditional idea of community that we have allowed slip away and treat as some nostalgic notion. The self respect to act civilly. A respect for others, their property and ideas. Respect for the physical space and neighbours around us.
We have, in many ways, sloughed off our community responsibilities to agencies. Have issues with a neighbour's kids or a noisy party ? Call the authorities, they'll handle it. Crime in the neighbourhood ? Get on the horn to the police, they'll handle it. The economy is tanking ? Keep shopping for the cheapest 'Made-in-China' goods rather than seeking out Canadian ones - the politicians will look after the economy. In winter we see this hit home with the additional complaints: why we should have to shovel the sidewalk in front of our house to allow people to walk through the neighbourhood ? The city should look after that. Why pay attention and move the car when they are plowing the public street to allow people to safely drive down it ? I should be able to park wherever I want.
I feel Obama 'gets it'. If people sit back and complain about things and not become active participants in making their lives, their neighbourhood, their city, their country, their economy better - it's not going to happen. His ability to take that sense of responsibility and community from the TelePrompTer into people's hearts and homes will be measure of his success as a leader
I wish him all the best.
Update - on small scale but if he could spread this around: Responding to President-elect Barack Obama's "call to service" on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, people across the Chicago area today were taking part in efforts to help others.
Update 2: Starbucks' campaign to promote volunteerism (and store traffic) got a huge bump today from no less than Oprah Winfrey -- and by extension, Barack Obama.