Obama plans to meet with members of Congress before his inauguration to let them know that everyone will have to scale back their expectations from government, including requests for earmarks or special projects. He told CNN he would explain to the legislators that, "Right now, we can only do those things that are absolutely necessary." If the legislators balk, Obama advisers say he will use his network of millions of supporters and donors around the country to create support for his agenda through phone calls, letters, and E-mails—much as Ronald Reagan (using different means) did with his conservative network in the 1980s.
"The defining question is, are they governing from the center or are they governing from the flank of the party?" says McCurry. The initial indications are that Obama will start in the center. Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, a strong liberal, said she wouldn't pressure him to move left. "The country must be governed from the middle," Pelosi told reporters on November 5. One reason, Democratic advisers say, is that so many new members of Congress are centrists that the party won't be able to hold its majority in 2010 if it lurches left with meddlesome social programs and vast new spending schemes.
But conservative activist Grover Norquist argues that Obama "is very liberal—and divorced from understanding Middle America." He says Obama won't be able to resist pent-up pressure from congressional liberals on a variety of issues, including their desire to raise taxes in order to spread the money to various social programs, pulling out of Iraq as quickly as possible, liberalizing abortion laws, and stopping needed domestic energy production. "He will be the goalie. His job will be to sign the bill or veto it," Norquist says, adding that "he won't be president. He will be signer in chief."
Republicans are particularly worried that the Democrats will enact legislation that will hurt the GOP's ability to protect business or win future elections. Among the sore points are " card-check" legislation, making it easier for unions to organize, and a measure to allow instant registration on Election Day. Norquist predicts that after 100 days Obama will look like "a crazy left winger." Obama aides insist that the new president will take a balanced approach, but they concede that he is committed to activist government. "This Republican project has exhausted itself," says David Axelrod, Obama's chief campaign strategist and a longtime confidant. He adds, "we are at the end of a historical epoch that started with Ronald Reagan's election in 1980." Now, he says, the political pendulum has swung away from the conservative, antigovernment, deregulation philosophy that Reagan ushered in, with Bill Clinton's two-term presidency representing an "interregnum" in an otherwise Republican era of White House mastery. "The tide of history is on our side," Axelrod says. Obama, having campaigned as the candidate of change, is turning the page from a GOP emphasis on less government and reduced oversight of business and shifting toward using government to improve everyday Americans' lives, he says.
Ending the war. Just as telling, Obama's foreign policy challenges will be fully as serious as the domestic ones. "The next president is going to inherit a significant series of conflicts and challenges from President Bush on the international scene, and they've only been made more complex by the global financial crisis," a senior Obama adviser says. First on the list, the aide says, is Obama's desire to "begin the process of responsibly redeploying the U.S. forces from Iraq at a pace that is safe for our forces." To that end, Obama is looking for ways to put pressure on the Baghdad regime and offer it incentives to take on more of the security and governing burdens. "Senator Obama's view is that after five years, in a war that has lasted longer than World War II, we ought to be more catalytic as opposed to passive," the adviser says. "Instead of waiting for them to get their act together, let's give them some encouragement and incentive to get their act together." The details are yet to be worked out. Obama also wants to strengthen U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, where the war has not gone very well in recent weeks, and he will try to improve operations with allies against anti-American fighters in Pakistan.