Obama: Vacation's End

02/02/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Mr. Obama goes to Washington.

With brand new, and extremely positive, signs from the Gallup Poll that his transition is more than weathering criticism from the left and the right, President-elect Barack Obama's Hawaiian sojourn is at its end.

It's that bittersweet time for Obama, a time that we all know, in between the end of the vacation and the renewal of work.

Obama had what appears to have been a lovely working vacation in his native Hawaii, our Pacific paradise which is a source of calming solace for the 44th president. With the mess Obama has to contend with, I suspect more than a few of us, in his position, might elect to stay there.

Here's the place Obama left yesterday, Kailua, on the windward side of Oahu, the Hawaiian island on which the president-elect was born.

I hope he's recharged his batteries from a rough though ultimately commanding election campaign in 2007 and 2008. The current president, after intermittent shows of competence, is leaving him with an historic, multi-layered, mess.

The stock exchange lost nearly a third of its value last year, the worst showing since 1931.

That's not a haircut. That's Skinhead Nation.

When did Bush or his allies raise the alarms? That would be, never. In fact, they insisted until the bitter end that all was well.

The environment got worse, too, with the Bush/Cheney regime not only going out of its way to block progress on fuel efficiency and greenhouse gases, as the North Pole melted, but also making late moves to eviscerate the Endangered Species Act. Which environmental groups and former California Governor-turned-Attorney General Jerry Brown have just sued to prevent.

Then there was geopolitics. A failing war in Afghanistan, which incoming Obama National Security Advisor Jim Jones, the former commandant of the US Marine Corps and commander of NATO, warned about two years ago. Pakistan on the verge of becoming a failed state, despite billions in aid from Bush for a war against Islamic jihadists that wasn't dare pursued. A serious crisis following the Thanksgiving terrorist siege of India's commercial capital of Mumbai. And Iraq, where Iran supports the US withdrawal deal agreed to by the outgoing administration, which spent so much time saber rattling against the "mad mullahs" of Tehran. That's actually a plus for Obama, as the notion of a timetable for withdrawal, his idea which was so controversial at the beginning of 2008, was mooted by the realities of Baghdad politics.

One very good sign for Obama in our polarized hyper-politics is that his core support amongst liberals remains higher than sky-high, while conservatives -- many of whom have imagined the most outlandish things about him -- are warming to his competence.

According to a brand new Gallup Poll, liberal confidence in President-elect Barack Obama is beyond sky-high, at an amazing 93%. And confidence in him amongst conservative Republicans is up to nearly a third. This comes despite a lot of carping on the left about some of Obama's Cabinet picks, from the centrist range, and especially around his selection of Orange County pastor Rick Warren -- an opponent of same-sex marriage -- to deliver the invocation at his inaugural.

More than 9 in 10 liberal Democrats have expressed confidence that Obama will make a good president since Gallup began tracking these opinions after the election last November. Moderate and conservative Democrats show nearly as high levels of confidence, perhaps because his choices may signal a more moderate approach to governing than they expected, after all the errant propaganda to the contrary, conservative, moderate, and liberal Republicans have become more confident in Obama's potential in recent weeks.

Now, a slim majority of moderate and liberal Republicans, 51%, say they are confident Obama will be a good president, up from 44% in November. Conservative Republicans remain largely skeptical of Obama's abilities, but in recent weeks his stock has risen slightly among this group, from 23% to 29%.

So the president-elect and First Lady-to be Michelle Obama are back in Chicago today, following their working vacation in Hawaii. They're packing this weekend and heading on Sunday to Washington, where they'll take up residence at the historic Hay Adams Hotel prior to Obama's inauguration as the 44th President of the United States on January 20th.

Why the move? Their daughters, Malia and Sasha, start school on Monday. And dad has a few meetings. He'll meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada to go over his big economic stimulus program and other matters. Then the three will meet with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader John Boehner.

Anyone who's spent time in Hawaii knows that it's a special place, where the obviously needed cosmopolitan view of the world's future can readily be summoned up, where pressing concerns can more readily be met with a Zen-like composure.

But the White House is not moving from Washington to Honolulu, at least not any time soon, even though decisions can be taken anywhere in the world in this new age of the global net. So it's back to the usual dens of politics for America's first non-white president.

After celebrating New Year's Eve in at a party with friends in Kailua, President-elect Obama is back in frozen Chicago. Despite percolating world crises and a terrible economic downturn, Obama managed to get some rest and relaxation before formally inheriting the mess from the Bush/Cheney Administration.

Obama inherits Bush's miscalculation in Gaza.

Israel has rejected a temporary ceasefire, instead launching fresh air attacks in the Gaza Strip in a bid to destroy tunnels through which arms and other materiel are smuggled to Hamas terrorists. Israel appears to be prepping for a ground offensive, judging that days of air attacks have failed to take out the Hamas offensive rocket capability.

And Blagogate, which hasn't touched Obama in the polls or in any direct way in the storyline of events, has another twist. Federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is going to ask for a few more months to put together his indictment of the the Illinois governor.

Another Blago headache.

This comes on top of Governor Blagojevich's surprise appointment of former state Attorney General Roland Burris to take Obama's vacated Senate seat. With Chicago Congressman Bobby Rush, the ex-Black Panther leader who easily defeated Obama in a 2000 Democratic primary, on hand to insist that Burris be seated to ensure that the Senate continues to have a black member. Many legal experts think that Burris will ultimately be seated, despite the wishes of Senate and other state leaders.

But, despite a lingering media fever, Blagogate is nothing more than a sideshow for Obama, except insofar as it affects the number of Democrats in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid might consider simply seating Burris, who seems otherwise untainted by Blagogate. This is especially so since Republicans seem likely to try to block the likely winner of the nail-biting Minnesota Senate race, comedian Al Franken, for as long as they can.

Then there's the question of Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton's appointed successor in the Senate. I think Caroline Kennedy, a good and smart person -- notwithstanding a few dozen nervous "you knows" -- will catch on very quickly.

Obama's vacation ends like many of ours have over the years. With pleasant memories behind and significant problems ahead.

The difference, of course, is that Obama is inheriting a historical, multi-layered disaster from the outgoing administration. Let's hope he's renewed his energy for the tasks ahead.