Can President-elect Barack Obama Deliver on His Campaign Promises?

He must lead through two wars and a collapsing economy.


After reeling off a series of international problems ranging from Iran's nuclear ambitions to continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the adviser added: "I don't think that the next president has the luxury of deciding that we will focus on only one or two things. That's the nature of the beast that he will inherit, so there will be a premium on him being ready and able to organize oneself effectively and manage multiple imperatives."

But Obama will start off with a huge amount of international goodwill and will get a "global honeymoon," says political scientist Galston. People in other countries will see his election as an atonement for Bush's unpopular policies, and it will cause "other nations to think more highly of us," Galston argues. Obama's enthusiastic reception by 200,000 Germans at a speech in Berlin earlier this year showed his potential to convince other countries that the go-it-alone style of Bush has ended.

There will be other big changes from the Bush era, especially in personality and lifestyle preferences. Gone will be Bush's mountain bikes. The "in" thing will be playing hoops with the president, which Obama does to relax. (He has an impressive 3-point shot, although his drives to the hoop aren't nearly as smooth as they once were.) Friends say he even wants to have a basketball court installed on the South grounds. Obama and his wife, Michelle, have much different tastes than the Bushes in music, preferring rock, hip-hop, and classical to country. And the Obamas, both of whom are lawyers, are voracious readers of books, periodicals, and newspapers, while President Bush is less literature-minded, to put it gently. The Obamas also have two preadolescent daughters who require and welcome more parental attention than the Bushes' twin teens did.

On a personal level, Obama also seems to possess what historians call an unflappable, confidence-inspiring "presidential temperament." Says Ken Duberstein, former White House chief of staff to President Reagan who endorsed Obama a few days before the election: "One of the hallmarks (of presidential leadership) is being comfortable within your own skin, that you trust your instincts." Duberstein says Obama passes the test.

Jerry Kellman, a longtime Obama friend from Chicago, says the president-elect is remarkably conciliatory toward his adversaries. "He doesn't hold grudges," Kellman says. 'He's ready to move on from the get-go . . . He has respect for people he is working with." This could help him build coalitions in Congress or with interest groups that initially oppose him, Kellman suggests. In fact, when dealing with obstacles to his agenda, Obama aides expect him to compromise in his own particular way. His pattern, allies say, will be to scale back each of his priorities, such as healthcare reform or promoting energy independence, rather than abandon any of them completely. For example, instead of moving aggressively toward universal care, he might settle for insuring everyone under 18 years old so no child would be without health insurance. "He will do bits and pieces of all of them, rather than cancel any of them," says a prominent Democrat who knows him well.

This may not be as bold or courageous as his supporters would want. But Obama reserves the right to amend his agenda and take a detour or two, depending on the circumstances. In the end, he could be a lot more pragmatic than either the liberals or the conservatives think.

  • Click here to read more by Kenneth T. Walsh.
  • Click here for more on Obama's transition.