Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Not Even Obama Knows What Comes Next

Barack Obama has been sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. There were a few mis-steps during the inauguration - Senator Dianne Feinstein announced that Obama was about to take the 'oaf' of office, Mr Obama himself stumbled through the early part of the oath, and then he began his speech by wrongly stating he was the 44th person to take the job (Grover Cleveland did it twice, and is counted as both the 22nd and 24th president, so Mr Obama is only the 43rd man to serve as president). The speech itself, perhaps surprisingly, didn't hit the rhetorical heights of predecessors such as FDR and JFK. Instead he went for a more sombre, solemn speech, invoking George Washington's struggles against the British during the difficult winter of 1776 as he talked about the current economic crisis.

None of this particularly matters. All the pomp and ceremony of inauguration day will be largely forgotten, if not by tomorrow, then certainly within a few weeks and months, once Mr Obama is spending his days dealing with the problems he spoke of facing.

Expectations are high, unreasonably high in fact, and soon Mr Obama will be disappointing some of his supporters as he gets on with the business of government. But trying to predict how his presidency will turn out is a mug's game. This time eight years ago, President Bush took power with his large tax cut the main focus of his policy agenda. That slipped dramatically down that agenda within months, when al Qaeda attacked New York and Washington on 9/11. That event changed the world, and completely changed Mr Bush's presidency, for good (it helped him win re-election) and ill (his reaction eventually proved deeply unpopular around the world and, ultimately, at home too). It will be how Mr Obama deals with challenges he can't foresee now that will determine how good a president he will become.

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