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What is the mandate?

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, November 12, 2008

As of 11 p.m. Nov. 4, Barack Obama was elected to succeed George W. Bush as the forty-fourth president of the United States. A lot of voters across the country – more than in any other election in history – voted for him. A lot of folks donated time, money, and effort to bring Obama to this point, all for different reasons, but overwhelmingly because they felt that our country should try heading in a new direction. This too was apparent in congressional races, where Democrats picked up seats in both the House and Senate.

However, Obama himself, put it best in his acceptance speech: “This victory alone is not the change we seek – it is only the chance for us to make that change.”

What is the change we seek? Or better yet, what must this new majority achieve in the coming months to vindicate the voters of their doubts and insecurities? Practically speaking, there are three main issues that seem to rise above the rest.

First, of course, is the economy. Democrats were voted into office (as they were in ’92) because the economy wasn’t looking good. A new tax plan would probably pass quickly and is necessary to spurring growth again. It will involve cuts across various income groups, in hopes of increasing spending again. The details will be controversial and passing something quickly will be difficult, but not insurmountable.

Second, some sort of energy policy needs to be put into place. We already import far too much oil, and if there is any sort of price shock while in recession, things could get even more ugly. Supporting a seriously alternative energy infrastructure will be expensive, but now is the time to do it. Spending is necessary to boost the economy, and infrastructure spending of this type would be killing two birds with one stone. While the debt will have to be dealt with eventually, the time is not now.

Finally, a definitive plan needs to be set for Iraq. Whether or not it calls for immediate troop withdrawal, or simply lays out goals that need to be met before withdrawal is possible, the increasingly dissident public deserves to have some idea of how and when it will end. We also need to be briefed on why Afghanistan is so important, and what the issues with Iran are.

Luckily, Obama has some tools at his disposal that should ease the process.

First, he has the attention of the rest of the world. The goodwill that has been generated, if harnessed, could turn into an effective alliance working over a swath of issues. Because our financial problems have become everybody’s financial problems, everyone will have to plan together to find a solution. Fortunately, Bush has already called for a conference of global leaders and economic advisers to begin work. Obama’s stamp will only strengthen the legitimacy and force of such a gathering. Furthermore, it will take an international force to figure out how to ease rising tensions with Iran. An Iran with nuclear weapons, again, is everybody’s problem.

The second tool Obama has is his massive e-mail of supporters. Allegedly, the number of entrants tops 10 million. With the touch of a button, Obama has the ability to inform millions directly of his plans and present his arguments. He will be able to drum up an army of activists lobbying their congressman for action.

Finally, he has come to power in a time of big problems, and was elected on the platform of big solutions. This is a big opportunity, and his supporters, the majority, have said they want to think bigger. While public opinion is difficult to forecast, I sense that people will be okay with a misstep or two, as long as it is acknowledged and a plan is presented to stay the course. Naturally, there will be those that are ready to pounce at first blood, but I’m not sure those are the ones that drive public sentiment effectively anymore.

Unfortunately, this last tool, the enormity of the problems, is also the greatest liability. We are attempting to wage war on two fronts: our economy has fallen off of a cliff, and we can’t stop buying oil drawn from countries that are not particularly friendly. It would be difficult for a government built on checks and balances to tackle one of these issues, much less all at the same time.

The people gave the Democrats a majority, and with it, a mandate to do better than we have been doing. This much is clear. Leaders of the world have endorsed Obama and claimed that they will support him going forward. That is good.

But it is of the utmost importance that the new majority remembers exactly what it was elected to do. Karl Rove infamously claimed that the Republican sweep in 2004 was a new enduring conservative majority. It lasted just two years, namely because the GOP forgot what it had been elected to do. Hopefully, the Democrats in the House and on the Hill wont’ forget and seize this great opportunity with humility and purpose.

Jason Coleman is a junior majoring in management. He can be contacted at

[email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.