WASHINGTON – The presidency of Barack Hussein Obama means that the dream of civil rights leader Martin Luther King has come true: The color line in the United States has been broken.
The nation’s 44th president has taken his new post with overwhelming support, disbelief that it could happen here, tears of happiness, public enthusiasm and the highest of hopes for a better world.
Obama has not a moment to lose. He is expected to move quickly to deal with the declining economy, the expanding war in Afghanistan and a U.S. exodus from the fiasco war in Iraq.
Yes, he can. And he says he will.
An early order of business should be to repair the nation’s shattered moral image by signing executive orders abolishing the use of torture during so-called “enhanced interrogation” of suspected terrorists. He should do so with all deliberate speed.
Restoring trust in government and a new openness would help Americans to believe again in their leaders.
The president should take time out to review the secret memorandums issued by his predecessor, including the abrogation of U.S. obligations under the Geneva Conventions and other treaties. The public has a right to know what those hidden hush-hush orders were and whether they reflected Richard Nixon’s assertion: “If a president does it, it’s not illegal.”
That approach was promoted by former Vice President Richard Cheney who defended water-boarding, the simulated drowning of prisoners under interrogation.
Cheney prevailed on the dark side of the White House in pushing an “imperial presidency.” He has been lucky to have our far-right Supreme Court back him up in keeping secret the names of his advisory task force on energy and his hopes of hiding some e-mails.
Outgoing CIA director Michael Hayden – a self-protective bureaucrat – said at his last news conference that the CIA officers who carried out water-boarding and secret detentions had explicit assurances from the Bush administration that those practices were legal.
Obama – who likes to play nice and not rub the Republican opposition the wrong way – does not seem to understand that he is going to have to bump heads with Congress to get moving on the domestic agenda of halting job loss in this country.
He wants to keep walking the center line – his choice of moderate Democrats for his Cabinet highlights that caution. But at some point he is going to have to take bold steps to find the money to improvise ways to put people back to work; provide universal health care and slash the deficit without touching Social Security and Medicare.
He might start by ending the shameful tax cuts that benefit the richest people in the country. Remember, they were supposed to plow their money into the local economy. Instead, they outsourced their bonanza or stashed it away.
As Obama put it in his inaugural address:
“Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.
“Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly. Our schools fail too many. And each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.”
No president except Franklin D. Roosevelt during the 20th century faced the magnitude of Obama’s problems. Things are coming apart – and the American people know it.
They are willing to give Obama some slack as the new guy on the block. But not too much time.
(c) 2009 Hearst Newspapers