Sunday, January 25, 2009

Hit the ground flying

Anyone doubting that Barack Obama means to put his stamp on the presidency fast got a taste of how much can be accomplished with a quick catalog of what Obama’s done in his first full five days in office:

In that time President Obama ordered a pay freeze for senior staff at the White House; signed an executive order enforcing tighter rules on lobbyists to ensure more transparency in government; ordered shut the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, immediately suspending the trials now being conducted there. He ordered an end to the CIA “rendition” prisons, in which terrorism suspects were believed by international rights monitors, and others, to have been tortured by or at the direction of agency interrogators.

He also appointed the esteemed diplomats George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke as envoys to the Middle East, and Pakistan and Afghanistan, respectively. He released his first YouTube weekly address, the online fireside chats meant to galvanize his younger supporters.

The president ended a ban against federal funding for international oirganizations that perform or counsel women on abortions. And according to The New York Times, on Monday, acting on a campaign pledge, he’ll direct federal regulators to fast-track applications by California and 13 other states to establish their own strict automobile emission and fuel efficiency standards — an action that would be a sharp rebuke to Bush administration policy, and one already hailed by environmental watchdogs.

“This is a complete reversal of President Bush’s policy of censoring or ignoring global warming science,” said Daniel J. Weiss, director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress in Washington, to The Times. “With the fuel economy measures and clean energy investments in the recovery package, President Obama has done more in one week to reduce oil dependence and global warming than George Bush did in eight years.”

And what’d you do at work last week? Talk about “hit the ground running.” This is hitting the ground flying.

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What’s taking place, at an almost breakneck pace, is a steady dismantling of some of the Bush administration’s most divisive policies. The Bush federal abortion funding ban, for example, was long seen as a means for his administration to exact a cynical leverage over women, by requiring any non-governmental organizations receiving U.S. funds to agree before they got the money that they will "neither perform nor actively promote abortion.”

It was a blatant sop to the abstinence-based programs favored by the Bush administration and conservatives generally, as opposed to the approach combining abortion counseling, contraceptives, and a pragmatism about sexuality that escaped the doctrinaires of the Bush White House.

The Bush strategy was a clear attempt to put politics above practicality. Obama’s executive order — signed one day after the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade — puts that to a stop.

Right now President Obama is raining blows — some glancing, some powerful — on the Bush administration. It’s a measure of how much work there is to be done that Obama has elevated an already serious game. He seems to know, or certainly to sense, that the storied "first 100 days" in wihch every new administration is tasked with accomplishing something, run out fast. And consistent with the take-charge manner he’s shown since he took office on Jan. 20, there are some who might have believed that Obama’s first 100 days started the day he won the election in November.

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In any case, the Obama honeymoon is likely to be a short one. His relationship with the press, once a veritable love feast, came to the verge of ugly last week when the president made what was intended to be a friendly impromptu visit to the White House press office.

Hillary Clinton and Sen. John McCain were Obama’s two chief rivals for the presidency. What a difference a campaign makes: Now, one of them works for Obama (as Secretary of State), the other works against him (in the Senate). The one thing both had in common is having dismissed Obama’s qualifications, sayng the White House was no place for “on the job training.”

It’s to Obama’s great advantage that he realizes the presidency is nothing but on-the-job training. There’s no other job in the world that prepares you for being president except being president.

In November, Barack Obama politically graduated at the top of his class. With just under a week behind him, and 1,454 days to go, President Obama’s swiftly doing what he can to make himself the most likely to succeed.

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