Hope To Change

Governing: Barack Obama’s victory Tuesday came on a broad platform of hope. While that stands in stark contrast to the far-left agenda his party promoted, the real hope is that Obama the president may be different.

Obama’s graceful victory speech thanking supporters and promising to listen to opponents could do much to make governing smoother and his presidency a success.

“As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, ‘We are not enemies, but friends . . . though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.’ And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn — I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your president too,” he told the nation Tuesday.

It’s a good start. But amid language of hope and change, it all will come down to whether Obama wants to impose a radical vision to change society, or instead be a good president in tune with the desires of the essentially centrist public, which would bring hope.

He presents a mixed bag of signals, but there are encouraging signs of a move toward the latter.

For one, Obama reads history and used the tax-cutting language of Ronald Reagan to sell his economic plan, perhaps the strongest reason he was elected. It signals a recognition of the reality of what the public will buy into, and may account for voters’ belief that Obama is the better man to fix the economy.

His plan is to raise taxes on the rich, of course, but since tax hikes cause problems in a recession, it was sold as a tax cut, which leaves the door open to modifying the plan into a better deal when reality hits. Moderate economic advisers such as Larry Summers and Robert Rubin give more reason to think this could happen.

Second, he did come around on energy development, saying that if he could not support drilling for its own sake, he could support it as part of an energy deal in Congress. That signals a certain realism about the urgency to develop energy from domestic sources, even if the centerpiece of his campaign is a $150 billion alternative and green energy program. The cash on that may be wasted, but the drilling, disguised as a political chit, has real potential to forge energy independence.

Third, for all of Obama’s naive ideas on foreign affairs, it’s an advantage that he commands so much respect abroad, from Europe to Latin America to Asia. It translates into a capacity to enhance U.S. influence and could keep gamy players such as Iran and Russia from openly crossing him. It’s notable that Obama’s wave of international popularity has started to bring detested dictators, including Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, out to flatter him to increase their own prestige. The servile show gives Obama leverage that will affect their behavior.

Obama’s position changes tend to occur after he is subject to criticism, signaling that not only does he mean it when he says he will listen, but that Republicans should remain a principled opposition. Obama modifies extreme positions to more palatable and realistic ones, inevitably improving them by moving toward the center.

Obama flip-flopped on his statement that he would destroy the North American Free Trade Agreement, modifying his stance in response to GOP critics. He also flopped on the success of the Iraq surge, not exactly admitting he’d been wrong, but acknowledging the strategy’s success. That again signals common sense over prevailing leftist lines, and that willingness to listen could also open the door to more moderate positions on the United Nations, judicial appointments and defense.

The broad pattern Obama shows is one of positions that start out hard, then moderate. If he governs that way, he not only will bring tolerable change, but reason for hope.

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