A Day for Hope and Optimism

January 21, 2009
Mike Hennessy

Whether or not you voted for President Obama, it's hard to imagine someone watching the inauguration ceremony without feeling a sense of hope and optimism. It was, indeed, a historic day, and perhaps it is the beginning of a new culture in Washington.

Whether or not you voted for President Obama, it’s hard to imagine someone watching the inauguration ceremony without feeling a sense of hope and optimism. It was, indeed, a historic day, and perhaps it is the beginning of a new culture in Washington.

Very quickly, the new President will have to mobilize. As Karl Rove wrote recently in an intriguing Wall Street Journal opinion piece, “Team Obama is about to learn that it’s easier to campaign than to govern.” President Obama is a skilled campaigner, and if his election and transition to the White House have been any indication, he is intelligent, resourceful, and cool under fire. He will need those skills and then some if he is to govern well.

One of the early challenges will be for him to prioritize the many promises he has made. Rove wrote, “Mr. Obama says 244,000 of his new jobs will be in government. Will these new government employees disappear when the economy recovers? Or is Mr. Obama pushing the largest expansion of government since LBJ’s Great Society?”

Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is strong enough to take everything you have.” To make good on the key tenets of his campaign, President Obama would have to expand government at a rate we haven’t seen in decades. Many of the economic challenges we face today are the result of out-of-control entitlement programs and misbegotten credit policies borne out of the Community Reinvestment Act and other policies that hindered the market in order to achieve “fairness and equality.”

In his well-delivered inauguration speech, Obama made it clear that many of the changes he’ll be seeking won’t happen overnight. He was wise to sound this note of caution; the expectations of many seem to have risen to unattainable levels. During the campaign, Obama often seemed to have the ability to be everything to everyone. To govern, he’ll have to make difficult choices—choices that will inescapably unpopular to many.

To Obama’s credit, he has already scaled back some of the most powerful rhetoric and ideas from his campaign, such as admitting the difficulties involved in trying to immediately shut down the detention facility at Guantanamo. Then there will be choices related to the economy—stimulus, taxes, or both—and to healthcare, social security, and national security. To illustrate how pressing these matters are, the stock market had its bleakest inauguration day ever, a sobering counterpoint to the joyous ceremony taking place 200 miles to the south.

The honeymoon period is over. Now it’s time for the new president to govern. I am hopeful that President Obama will prove an effective leader, a force for positive change, and a bridge to political leaders on both sides of the aisle. It will not be easy.

Mike Hennessy is Chairman and CEO of MJH & Associates. Click here for more Hennessy's Highlights