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Bernard Rowan Headshot

Change?

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Like many, I voted for Barack Obama because I am convinced that his rhetoric and intentions indicate a desire to change America. If it is Iraq, health care, energy policy, or education, I believe his campaign policy positions are closer to meeting the needs of Americans. I also agree that the time has come for a more progressive spike to our tax policies with respect to higher income earners. He won on a platform containing these elements, among others, and it's time to see what is done about it all.

These days, I'm beginning to wonder if Obama is going to be able even to live up to part of his promises. At first I was impressed by his alacrity in naming top Cabinet officials and speaking to the public about his economic plans. I recall my undergraduate professor of presidential leadership speaking about the errors of waiting too long to organize the first 100 days of an administration. Obama certainly isn't doing that -- which is a good sign.

However, I have to say there are at least two problems with his approach thusfar. He apparently has succumbed or had to go along with appointing "centrists" -- a lot of them -- to fill out his advance people, his working groups, and his proposed economic team. They have in turn crafted what I think are standard, tried-and-true, and perhaps overly worn recommendations for fixing our economic mess. Keynesian stimuli and bailouts plus public works. Even the rhetoric seems a bit canned, recalling -- with some modifications -- the era of Roosevelt and the Depression as in "relief, recovery, and reform."

But we're not in the Great Depression, and Obama was not elected to be a centrist. He best be careful. He is a progressive politician and an artful, meticulous campaigner, but his mandate rests upon appealing to a different energy, arguably.

When speaking of a mandate to change, it would make sense to ratchet up the advance discussion of reforms. There's no need to be linear about the economic recovery, or we'll never get past it. Obama was elected to change the way things work, and to do so for the benefit of Main Street. So simply, stimulating the economy and reassuring the markets, then moving on doesn't cut it.

Where is the emphasis on major reforms and re-regulation of profligate, excessive, disgusting, and immoral financial institutions, from their operations to the way chief executives and boards are getting a pass. Where is the ability of the people to require, in return for their burgeoning investments of tax money and indebtedness, a direct oversight of what is done with the money.

If it's credit swaps, derivatives, sub-prime loans, or what have you, the era of what passes for free markets is showing itself as begging perhaps the world's biggest governmental intervention in the private sector, at least on the finance side. And now, our auto makers are lining up, too.

There will come a day, absent major changes to what an automobile amounts to and runs on, that the United States will no longer make many cars. All of this money just delays reality -- if we believe in markets and the need to adapt.

Obama and the Democratic Party understand better than most that "freedom," "democracy" and "capitalism" are not enemies of or without active government -- especially for national security, a term all too often and foolishly reduced to and equated with the military and defense. This is a national crisis, and it demands more than bailouts and fiscal stimulus. It demands reform -- and now!

I don't see anything like this in Obama's centrist proposals to fix the economy. And of course, criticisms are readily available about the dire straits we are in, and the need to do something quick, and the stakes that are so apparent. Yes, and that's not going to the core, either of the mandate, or of the problems.

Second, re-naming too many Clinton-era appointees -- including Hilary Clinton herself -- is not "change." I voted for Obama because the Clintons have tried and had their turn to determine the vector of Democratic change in this nation. It's time to bring in a new generation of leaders, not just new versions of the same. And to those who say that Obama wants to "hit the ground running," there is more than one way to run a winning team, and more than one way to launch the administration. I'm not convinced that change agency is determining the choices as much as is political debts, promises, and efforts to gather the Washington elite.

And from Obama, that would be a disappointment. Here's hoping I'm proven wrong.