Back to gray politics
What would you do if the whole world was waiting expectantly for your next move? The American president-elect Barack Obama, faithful to his campaign image, ("Obama no drama") goes to a gym every morning, accompanied by a security motorcade. The last big festival, the inauguration in Washington, still awaits him, but just as his return to a daily workout marked the end of the campaign for Obama, the results of the daily discussions with his team in Chicago behind closed doors mark the return to everyday politics.
First of all, Obama is not coming into a vacuum. Even President George W. Bush is leaving behind a kind of legacy, and a number of appointments with which Obama will have to live for a while. Unlike Bill Clinton and his desperate attempt to bring peace to the Middle East, in his last days in office Bush has been looking more worried about domestic affairs and is hastening to pass decisions that could determine facts on the ground, such as preparations for drilling in nature reserves in the Arctic. Bush is also flooded with last-minute requests for clemency, but it does not look as though much will come of this, which is also the case with respect to the last visit to Washington by the prime minister of Israel.
In the meantime, the suspense among those on the long list of Obama's faithful, who are waiting for a phone call from the transition team people, is now becoming unbearable. Many good people worked hard for him, and most of them rightfully deserve a piece of the administration cake, not as charity. On the theoretical level, the team that will be recruited here is supposed to be the "dream team" of a president who is America's hope, and also the hope of at least part of the world.
However, in the world of action, the attempt to put together a functioning government puzzle on which so much hope is pined will ultimately be translated into the handing out of jobs with all the epiphenomena of that: an inevitable mix of people with a mission and careerists, the use of connections, unsentimental calculations of risk, hurt feelings, negotiations, intrigues and speculations. Declaring war on the lobbyists is all very nice, but in actuality wherever Obama turns in an attempt to find experienced and connected candidates, he comes up against a dense network of lobbyists.
Personally, too, Obama, a graduate of a prestigious private school and Harvard University, does not intend to act like the average American when it comes to his family. When his wife Michelle and his daughters came to Washington this week, they toured two private schools. Everyone knows that the public education in the city is terrible, said one resident of Washington, D.C., and of course Obama does not want to harm his daughters' future. But she herself was disappointed because he promised to "fix things," and who if not the president can send a message of confidence in the education system and contribute to improving its quality? She too has two daughters, like the president-elect, and they have no chance of going to private schools. "I don't want to think about a situation in which Obama is sitting in the White House, but in fact nothing has changed," she said.
However, after a few minutes of conversation she also admits that the talk about a "new politics" is a fiction. In the real world, in the best case there will be exhausting discussions in the best democratic tradition, from which a policy that works will arise. In the worst case, there will be many excellent excuses for why it isn't working, because if there is something that Obama knows how to do really well, it is to explain things clearly.
But even in a situation of "business (and politics) as usual," a successful team and a leader with good judgment can produce quite a lot of good, especially if Obama will indeed be smart enough to enlist his former rivals to his side and, like Abraham Lincoln, whose words he recalled on the night of his victory, prove that he can control them.
Above all, from within the mountain of reports as to how bad the situation is in every possible area and a deluge of advice, he is also expected to engender a vision that will keep the spark of hope alive in the world in general, and in the United States in particular. How is this done in reality? One possibility is that of "czars," a kind of parallel to "ministers without portfolio:" putting people with a high public profile and a vision in charge of advancing certain areas. However, the top candidates for the positions of "czar" who Obama has successfully enlisted into the ranks of his supporters, are contributing to their country without the backing of a government salary and official title. According to the reports, former vice president Al Gore has rejected an offer to become the "climate czar," and the chairman of Google has relinquished the possibility of becoming "technology czar."
Another option is to return to the "roots." The problem is that with the circle of advisors closing rapidly around him, the appeals to the nation on YouTube will perhaps make him more up-to-date, but not more up-to-date about what people are really thinking.
He is not going to be Caliph Haorun al Rashid, who according to legend would go out to the street in disguise in order to pick up what his subjects were feeling, but perhaps he will at least succeed in stealing a few minutes before his morning briefings to do a search on Google.
Or perhaps the mechanism he has already built will do the job on its own. Obama's campaign people, who managed to get a real fight going from below, sent out an e-mail this week asking field activists for ideas about what can be done with the huge network that has been created, and how to keep Obama as the real president of the people. If people who became addicted to the campaign raise the gauntlet, and with the same enthusiasm start persuading their neighbors to travel more by bike, recycle and save, then Obama has a good chance of wining at least one of the battles that await him.