After years of knocking on doors, placing phone calls, hanging flyers on lamposts and chalking university sidewalks, the faithful supporters of President Barack Obama could sit back with pride as their icon was sworn into office on Tuesday.
But with the blink of an eye — or a botched 35-word oath of office — that was it. The man who promised hope and change and reform is now the president. The work to get him there is over. He garnered more votes. The “-elect” part has been dropped from his title. Sasha and Malia are going to school in D.C. Grandma has moved in to help out.
It’s official: Obama is president. So now what?
The expectation levels for Obama are high, and rightfully so. The promises he made on the campaign trail for wide-sweeping change across the spectrum provides for a massive agenda. Unfortunately, it’s an agenda that cannot be fully accomplished.
On Obama’s side, obviously, is the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and Senate. That should help him move quite a bit of legislation through, even though he will still need to work with Republicans to allow their voices to be heard.
But this nation faces incredible challenges — economonic conditions are not at Great Depression levels but are still in poor shape, and pulling the troops out of Iraq cannot be done with a simple snap of the fingers. Then there are initiatives on health care, energy, education… and just a couple others.
Expectation levels for Obama are at nearly unprecedented levels. One of the first came with his inaugural address after being sworn in. I was one of many Americans who expected a speech that was as moving and significant as Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. While I didn’t think the speech was bad by any stretch of the imagination, I certainly wasn’t blown away.
The moment, of course, was extraordinary. The fact that an black man who united so much of the country, who inspired countless Americans young and old and who might have had trouble simply voting 50 years ago stood on the steps of our nation’s Capitol to take the office was one of the finest moments in our nation’s history.
But the speech simply didn’t live up to my expectations. The delivery was standard Obama, but I would have enjoyed a little less of the subtle bashing of the past eight years and a broader theme regarding where this nation is headed. Knowing the love affair most of this community has with Obama, let’s just go ahead and agree to disagree about the speech.
My point is this: Obama faces the momumental task of living up to all of his voters’ expectations. He thinks he can achieve it, but he cannot just snap his fingers and turn Washington into that “It’s a Small World” ride at Walt Disney World where everyone gets along. We need to come to the realization that Obama and his team simply can’t get everything done right away and probably won’t get everything done in the next four years.
One of Obama’s challenges will be figuring out how he can improve the everyday lives not of the people who are googly eyed for him but rather the mother in Waukesha County who hadn’t voted for a Democrat since Jimmy Carter. (Yes, I know one.) Obama has to appeal to, forgive me, the Joe the Plumbers who voted his way.
Polls indicate the American people are ready to be patient with Obama, and we must be. On one hand, Obama must have an impact on everyone, but we must remember he does not have superpowers and we must shift our expectations of him from insane to realistic.
Tom Schalmo (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior majoring in journalism.