Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The More Things Change, the More They Remain the Same -

As is now clear to everyone, this year’s Presidential election has produced unprecedented change in America. There is no question that it is an important change, but I was glad to see that the President-elect and the people around him appear to understand the immensity of the challenge now facing them. They are reportedly already talking about how this new team must act quickly but not hastily. After all, there remain divisions within the country. Their words brought to mind one of my favorite aphorisms borrowed from the Russian general Alexander Suvorov – “Speed is essential, haste harmful.”

In a moment of irony, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s cold reaction to the U.S. election made clear one of the reasons for this new administration to want to move with speed. It appeared as if Russia, out of all the nations of the world, remains determined to play the game of international relations by the old rules. The reality is that many of these old rules remain in place and it is imperative that Americans and particularly the new Obama Administration recognize this fact. However important and significant Obama’s election is much of the world around us remains the same.

We don’t know much about how the President-elect will actually lead and govern the country. As a recovering American apparatchik who voted for Obama, I am still anxious about his apparent lack of knowledge of how the U.S. government works and where the buttons and levers are. The best news is that unlike the current resident of the White House, Obama clearly is an intelligent thoughtful man capable of changing his mind when information is brought to him that compels such a response. Also, by the mere fact of his election he has changed the domestic political equation to greatly reduce (note that I do no say eliminate) race from our domestic debate – and abroad his election has revalidated the previously widely held and sometimes rather romantic view that America is truly a nation of hope and opportunity – Too bad Ronald Reagan isn’t alive to offer some benediction on the event as I think he would recognize it.

Our greatest hope must be that Obama doesn’t squander the good feelings, that he acts on his intention and his demonstrated ability to bring people together, and creates an administration that will not swing to the extremes. This includes the requirement that he really extends a hand and lends an ear to the Republicans in Congress while the Democratic leadership on the Hill avoid the past excesses committed by both parties on the Hill. The challenge for the Republicans as they work to rebuild their party – or find a new political home – is to decide what principles they represent and how to work with the Obama administration in a way that reflects and embodies those principles instead of projecting an image of their party as the ultimate ugly guest at the ball.

That’s the best I can do for you this morning. After all, it’s all speculation now. President-elect Barack Obama actually has to start doing things before we can really be sure that we know who he is and what his election means.

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