Mal Fletcher
What The New President Must Do

Finally, after the longest pre-election race in US history, the world knows the identity of the next incumbent to the American presidency.

Barack Obama will become the forty-fourth US president and the first African-American to hold that high office. He is also, at the age of forty-seven, the first member of the so-called Generation X to fill that role - but more on that shortly.

President elect Obama will take office at a time of great uncertainty in his nation. It faces a debt of something like one trillion dollars, is fighting a war on two fronts and is almost certainly approaching a recession.

On top of all this, its currency of moral influence in the world has taken a battering over the past few years, as news of abuses of POWs and questions about the legality of the Iraq war have dominated news cycles.

In a radio interview this morning, I was asked what I thought of the fear and apprehension some people are expressing about the largely unknown senator from Illinois.

I don't think it's Obama per se that some people fear, or claim to; it is more likely the idea of change itself.

Yes, much about Obama's attitudes remains a mystery to us, but that must surely be the case with most incumbents when they are young and, it terms of public service, relatively inexperienced.

But we can hardly expect someone of 47 years of age to have served in the Senate for as long as his opponent, Senator McCain. And a relative lack of past experience does not necessarily equal a lack of judgement for the future, which is after all they key quality one looks for in a national leader.

After his inauguration in January, President Obama will need to quickly establish himself in four areas.

First, he must keep his stated commitment to govern for all Americans.

In his victory speech he made reference to Republicans who had served the country with distinction. It was his way of demonstrating his respect for gifted leaders on both sides of the political aisle. He must express that respect with more than words, perhaps by including Republicans in his cabinet.

Secondly, he will need to prove that he can add pragmatism to his clear skills as an idealist, dream-caster and communicator.

He has evidently built around him a strong and talented team thus far. If this is an indication of his skills as a pragmatist, Americans may feel encouraged.

If he is typical of his generation, Barak Obama will bring a level of pragmatic thinking into everything he does. Gen-Xers are, generally, less impressed with pure idealism than their Boomer forebears. They tend to listen to the dream then demand to know how it can be achieved.

So perhaps this will be true of Mr Obama, who has already demonstrated his appeal to the idealists among us.

Of course, this pragmatism will always need to be tempered with a sense of higher moral purpose - and an accountability to history and future generations.

America's traditional moral and ethical principles, borrowed in no small degree from the various streams of its religious heritage, should not be abandoned on the altar of pure pragmatism. It must not be jettisoned in the interests of short-term political expediency.

The new president will also need to do what he can to heal America's damaged reputation overseas.

At present, the EU is reaching out to Mr Obama, seeking to recast Europe as a key partner in America's future ambitions and an equal in terms of global influence.

Whether America wants to see the EU in the latter light is another matter, but she must at least reach out in a multi-lateral way on key issues of security, peace and the economic situation.

Finally, the new president will need to avoid tacking too far to the left, especially in areas like the appointment of Supreme Court justices.

In respect of the difficult choices he will face, he must find a way forward that respects the interests and aspirations of the majority, without compromising America's moral compass for this or future generations.

Presidents preside over the big tent: they must work for as broad a constituency as possible. Yet we can expect - and Americans must demand - that they keep to the core values that have made their nation strong.

We can all but hope that America's future under Obama reaches at least partway up the high mountain of his rhetoric.

Copyright Mal Fletcher 2008

Mal Fletcher (@MalFletcher) is the founder and chairman of 2030Plus. He is a respected keynote speaker, social commentator and social futurist, author and broadcaster based in London.

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