Obama a Moderate with a Mandate

Obama a Moderate with a Mandate

By Ed Koch - January 27, 2009

For a whole host of reasons, Barack Obama is uniquely perceived by a huge majority of adoring Americans as a welcome successor to George W. Bush, who left office with the lowest approval rating of any president who held the office in the modern era. Bush's approval rating was 22 percent, while that of President Ronald Reagan on leaving office was 68 percent; Bill Clinton was 68 percent and George H.W. Bush was 54 percent. Jimmy Carter's was 44 percent. Harry Truman's was 23 percent. President Obama's current approval rating at the beginning of his term is 68 percent.

There is a real joy in the U.S. following the election of the first African-American to the presidency. Overseas, countries friendly and not so friendly appear supremely happy with the change in presidents here in the U.S. and what that portends for our relationships with them. Barack Obama is without question King of the Hill. He has a lot on his plate and an enormous amount of good will to expend in getting his agenda adopted by a Congress which now has Democratic majorities in both Houses.

Obama is moving quickly as he said he would to implement foreign and domestic policy changes, e.g., appointing a special representative -- Richard C. Holbrooke -- for Afghan and Pakistani issues and another - George Mitchell - for Israeli-Palestinian affairs. Domestically, he is moving quickly on the economic front with his stimulus package, requiring tighter Wall Street regulations and higher car pollution standards.

We have the bizarre situation that the presidential candidate of the left, Barack Obama, who astonishingly won the election with a near landslide against all expectations, ends up as the clear moderate next to the Congressional Democratic leaders. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is substantially to the left of the president and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is also, but to a lesser extent. The American middle class, Democrat and Republican, white and black, are overwhelmingly moderate in their political views and for reasons not comprehended by political observers recognized Barack Obama early on as a moderate and voted for him. Based on his appointments and actions to date, the public found their instincts in picking him were right on target.

While I don't really know Barack Obama, having spoken to him once on the telephone during the campaign and having met and talked briefly with him at the Alfred E. Smith Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, I, like so many others, sensed his moderate stance and decided to support and campaign for him in the general election. When I announced publicly that I would be deciding who I would be supporting, I received a call from candidate Senator Barack Obama whose opening sentence was, "I'm here to answer any questions you may have." I responded, "Senator, I appreciate your calling me, but you don't have to worry about me." His immediate reply was, "Will you campaign for me?" My response was, "Yes." And, of course, I did. I campaigned for him in Florida, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. New York was his overwhelmingly, and was exporting its campaign workers to other states to work for him.

When I saw then Senator Obama at the Alfred E. Smith Dinner and had a few minutes to chat as I went through the receiving line, I told him of the wonderful reception I had had in Florida as I campaigned - as requested by his campaign people - in the Jewish areas just north of Miami. I told him I did not have to convince anybody; they were all for him before I got there. Recently, I saw a figure mentioned in the media that he got 78 percent of the Jewish vote nationally. He graciously said to me, "They believed in you and followed you." I know they were for him long before I got there, but believe me, praise and a thank you go a long way in making friends, and got even more activity and effort out of a then 83-year-old campaign worker.

I hope and pray that President Obama succeeds. His opinions, as he is alleged to have to told the Republican leadership questioning his solutions, will now carry because, as he said to the Republican leadership, "I won." While I will support him, even if I disagree with some of his policies, I offer the following suggestions.

1. Get out of Afghanistan now. It is not stable, but a corrupt alliance of tribes that depend on the drug business for their livelihood and apparently like living in a medieval warlord society. Leading their government is a man -- Hamid Karzai -- whose writ barely extends throughout the capital, Kabul, with the Taliban being as strong or stronger in the rest of the country.

2. Have Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Daschle appoint a committee to recommend a new law to be voted up or down by the Congress creating universal medical insurance for all Americans. Don't wait for our economic problems to be solved. Simply provide that the annual national expenditure for medical care not exceed the portion of our gross domestic product spent currently.

3. Provide that every three or five years, the balance of trade with major countries, China, Japan, India, Russian, the European Union and OPEC countries, be examined and where there is an imbalance unfavorable to us of greater than an agreed upon percentage, e.g., 15 or 25 percent, tariffs and quotas be imposed for one or more years until the imbalance is corrected.

Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.

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