Handling Power Is Always Difficult

John ArmstrongPolitics

I believe it is harder to handle power than it is to pursue it. Politically the Republicans had it in 1994, really had it in 2000, and now have totally lost it. They demonstrated why people who seek it and finally gain it tend to find ways to throw it all away in scandal, greed and personal ambition.

Now the Democrats have it again for the first time since the election of Bill Clinton in 1992. The last time they held it they threw it away on all kinds of issues that turned the people against them quickly. The greatest challenge many feel Barack Obama now faces is how to navigate this use of power. How hard will they pursue their "agenda?" Some leaders say, "We got it, We have to use it." Others say we need to take care of the major issues and only then pursue the lesser ones. President-elect Obama indicated over the weekend that national security and the economy are the two priorities. I hope he means it and I think he does.

Will the various liberal interest groups pressure the new president? Of course they will, just as the strongly conservative ones pressured President Bush, who agreed on some issues (e.g., abortion, embryonic stem cell research, etc.) and disagreed on others, such as building the biggest debt and creating the most costly programs in our history. Bush did not govern as a fiscal conservative in so many ways and the results are fairly obvious now. Will Obama?

The liberal magazine The New Republic tells Obama last week to "Go for it!" But the risk of voter backlash is very real. The coalition that elected Obama is pretty broad and included many non-liberal voters. The fact is liberals could not elect a president without creating a broad-based appeal, which Obama did brilliantly.The non-partisan Pew Research Center found that Democrats, by nearly a 2-1 margin, want leaders to move the country in a "moderate direction." Majority Whip James Clyburn (D.-S.C.) says, "We need to have a measured approach. I don't think we need to be lurching left or right." Since the Whip's job is to get the party in line I hope Clyburn succeeds.

Obama has always cultivated a moderate and unifying political style even though he has voted in a liberal way. His rise to fame came in his calling the nation to rise above partisanship in 2004. He met with John McCain and Lindsey Graham in Chicago on Monday. This could be the first of a number of such efforts if Obama follows the way he has led in the past. If he follows this course he will leave an enduring legacy and both the far left and far right will not like him.