It was a tense and riveting moment at the recent McCain campaign rally in Minnesota when a flustered and livid participant shouted at Republican presidential contender John McCain that he was scared of an Obama presidency. The man is not alone in his professed terror of an Obama White House. Even before McCain and Palin’s brief mudsling at Obama, legions of McCain backers quietly grumbled that an Obama White House would be a disaster. Their fear is that Obama is too liberal, even radical, too young, too willing to appease foreign foes, and too much a Democratic Party shill, and for some, his race. As the prospect of an Obama White House looms larger, the skepticism, worry, and fear of those like the man who expressed his fear at the McCain rally will grow. But the fear would be there even if race and all Obama’s other alleged liabilities weren’t there.
Obama’s raised the expectation bar sky high, maybe too high. He will be expected to immediately deliver on his promise to clamp down on Wall Street, implement affordable health care, wind down the war in Iraq, and to make good on his promises to give tax cuts to virtually everyone, while not raising taxes. With the treasury awash in debt, and more debt piling up, this is the riskiest promise of all. It’s one that voters will remember.
There are other red flags that flutter in the political breeze and pose danger warnings to a president Obama. There’s the curse of a first term president who takes power from an incumbent of the opposite party. The partisan attacks, character knocks, policy second guessing, and resistance against Clinton and Bush were relentless their first months in office. Millions of voters simply did not except their election and gave them no grace period to find their Oval Office legs.The inexperience tag that Hillary Clinton and McCain slapped on Obama during the campaign will be dredged up and pointed to to explain any misstep or failing. The inexperience tag is a politically perilous one for a good reason. Many voters expect American presidents to hit the ground running. They are unwilling to make a leap of faith that an untested candidate can smoothly and effortlessly handle crisis situations that inevitably arise. The reality is that inexperienced presidents often make poor crisis managers. They have gotten the country into costly and unpopular wars and brush fire conflicts. They alienate foreign friends and allies. They bungle the economy. And their administrations more times than not are riddled with corruption and cronyism. The disastrous proof is the administration of the man that Obama would replace. Bush's foreign and domestic policy bumbles and ineptitude doesn’t mean that Obama will implode under fire. Yet, the expectation, maybe even hope, of many will be that Obama who took office with a paper thin resume on national and international issues will fail.
Obama’s most fervent boosters namely African-Americans and liberal Democrats passionately hopped on the Obama bandwagon because they believed that he could quickly undo the damage of the Bush years. His subsequent reversal on FISA, his rejection of public financing, his tout of the death penalty for child rape, his backpedal from his pledge to sit down for talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and his retreat to a glacially slow, vaguely laid out timetable for a phased withdrawal from Iraq drew some mild gasps from the faithful.
But even when uttering his best shake up the Washington establishment stump rhetoric, Obama never made any promise to make big sweeping changes. He could not have won the presidency without engaging in the traditional deal making, political horse trading, and policy spins to corporate donors and Beltway insiders.
During the campaign, Obama was virtually silent during the campaign on issues such as racial profiling, affirmative action, housing and job discrimination, the racial disparities in prison sentencing, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, failing inner city schools, ending the racially-marred drug sentencing policy, and his Supreme Court appointments.
Yet, many blacks will expect him to make these issues top priorities. They’ll be disappointed when he doesn’t in his first days, and realistically he couldn’t if he wanted to.
As president he will be pulled and tugged at by corporate and defense industry lobbyists, the oil and nuclear power industry, government regulators, environmental watchdog groups, conservative family values groups, moderate and conservative GOP senators and house members, foreign diplomats and leaders. They all have their priorities and agendas and all will vie to get White House support for their pet legislation, or to kill or cripple legislation that threatens their interests.
As the most closely watched president in American history, he will have little wiggle room to make mistakes. And a lot of that will be based on the fear of many of his presidency.Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).