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Obama to Contend With High Expectations


President-elect Barack Obama will face an international economic crisis and two wars when he takes the oath of office as the 44th president of the United States on January 20. But the new president will also have to contend with a byproduct of his political success, great expectations from Americans at home and people around the world. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports from Washington.

Obama supporters experienced a kind of political euphoria on election night as the candidate from Illinois scored a convincing victory over his Republican opponent, Senator John McCain.

But just a few days later, Mr. Obama took pains to caution Americans that there were no quick fixes to the nation's economic challenges.

"It is not going to be quick and it is not going to be easy for us to dig ourselves out of the hole that we are in," he said. "But America is a strong and resilient country, and I know we will succeed if we put aside partisanship and politics and work together as one nation."

But the reaction at home and around the world following Mr. Obama's election victory has been notable.

Obama supporters see his election as ushering in a new era of progressive change in Washington.

Around the world, foreign governments and various international newspapers have made it clear they expect changes in U.S. policies and viewpoints after eight years of the Bush administration.

Professor Robert Guttman directs the Center on Politics and Foreign Relations at the Johns Hopkins University in Washington. He told VOA's Encounter program that the expectations for Obama around the world are extremely high.

"We have two wars, we have an extreme economic meltdown, a financial crisis, but Obama does not have any power until January 20," he noted. "So, while there is honeymoon around the world and excitement, by the time he actually takes power a lot of people are going to be saying, well, how come he did not save this bank or how come he did not do that?"

Another expert, Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, says international expectations of the Obama presidency should be tempered by reality.

"Barack Obama will be an American president who will pursue America's national interest, and America's national interest is not always the same as other country's national interest," he explained. "And so if they just think that he is going to do what they want, they are going to be sadly mistaken."

In the short term, Mr. Obama's transition team is focused on the monumental task of building a government ready to take power on January 20.

"The president-elect has a total of about 3,000 political appointments at various levels that he has to make," said William Galston, an expert on government at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "There is no permanent government. There is no shadow cabinet. And so the president-elect has to create a government from scratch in about 10 weeks."

Mr. Obama demonstrated great rhetorical skills during his presidential campaign. But as presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton have realized, the power to communicate with the people can be just as important when governing.

"If a president is going to be successful, the president has to not only set the vision about where he wants to take the country, he also has to be very truthful about the challenges that the country has to confront, the sacrifices that are going to have to be made and the tough decisions that are involved in trying to deal with the problems facing this country," explained Leon Panetta, who served as White House chief of staff for former President Clinton.

During the presidential campaign, Senator McCain often referred to Mr. Obama as one of the most liberal members of the U.S. Senate.

But political analyst Stuart Rothenberg says the early appointments to the incoming Obama administration suggest a pragmatic, centrist approach to governing.

"I was talking to somebody who worked for him at the Harvard Law Review who said recently that Senator Obama is probably more liberal than most Americans know, but he will be more pragmatic than most Americans expect - certainly most Republicans expect - because he is ambitious, he wants to succeed," he said. "He knows he cannot go too far and he knows where the country is. And the picks he has made suggest that is the case."

Mr. Obama will have the advantage of having fellow Democrats control Congress when he takes office in January. But Democratic control of both the White House and Congress has not always worked out so well.

Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson worked effectively with Democratic-run Congresses early in their terms.

But the last two Democratic presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, had significant problems early on with Congress and eventually paid a political price.

Mr. Carter lost his re-election bid in 1980, while Mr. Clinton was forced to deal with a Republican-led Congress only two years after he won the presidency in 1992.

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