Archive for Friday, January 16, 2009

Can Obama make change happen?

January 16, 2009

Outside observers agree — it’s pretty likely that newly-minted President Barack Obama will be able to deliver on the change he has promised the country.

At least parts of it, anyway.

Paul Johnson, a Kansas University professor of political science, said to look to the first few months of the Obama presidency for the most dramatic impacts. Republicans have lost some of their “small government” ground to stand on after George W. Bush supported a large bailout for the banking industry, he said.

“If there’s going to be something dramatic that happens, it’s going to be pretty soon,” he said.

Some change could happen almost immediately, Johnson said. For example, Obama’s team could immediately place restrictions on how the federal banking bailout money is spent, Johnson said.

Democrats have called for things like a restriction on executive pay, he said, and those things might be enacted quickly with a new Democratic president.

Much of the change Obama has called for has already begun, Johnson said, with the government involved in many different aspects of economic growth.

Wint Winter, a Lawrence bank executive and attorney, served as a Republican state senator from 1982 to 1992. He said even though there’s an “R” next to his name at the courthouse, he had an Obama sign in his yard.

It’s Obama’s broad public support, among Democrats and Republicans alike, that helps put him in a position to affect real change.

“I think we have an excellent opportunity to actually make some extraordinary progress here with him,” Winter said. “I think he’s got a fairly unique set of circumstances.”

That includes what Winter sees as a mandate from the electorate and an opportunity to build bipartisan support.

The fact that the nation is facing an economic crisis will help Obama create some new policies, too, Winter said.

“If the ship’s springing a leak, you’re happy to go along with the captain’s idea for how to plug it,” he said.

He compared Obama’s opportunity to an 80 percent chance of picking the right numbers to win the lottery.

For Washburn University political scientist Loran Smith, Obama’s opportunity is a good one, but does not compare to some historical opportunities.

Obama will still face Republican opposition in the Senate, where Democrats failed to obtain a 60-vote majority needed to override a filibuster.

That pales in comparison to the overwhelming majorities obtained by former presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Smith said.

He said both Johnson and Roosevelt were able to parlay huge congressional majorities into major new policies, like Johnson’s Civil Rights Act and Roosevelt’s New Deal policies.

For all the flowery rhetoric about change, Obama may still run into some obstructions, including Republican objections and logistical problems with a withdrawal from Iraq and an ongoing financial slump, Smith said.

“You can say it easier than you can do it,” he said.

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