Obama faces stormy waters as 44th US president

January 14th, 2009 - 8:56 am ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaWashington, Jan 14 (DPA) No US president in recent memory has entered office facing such huge crises or such enormous expectations as Barack Obama.The Democratic president-elect is to be inaugurated Jan 20 as the country’s 44th president, elected with a strong 53 percent majority by voters disillusioned with eight years of Republican George W. Bush.

The American public believes Obama will not only lead them out of two increasingly unpopular wars and restore the country’s tainted image abroad but also rescue them from the economic free fall that has brought worst worldwide financial crisis in more than 70 years.

Such daunting prospects nearly overshadow the historic nature of the inauguration. The theme of the day, “A New Birth of Freedom”, is meant to commemorate the 200th birthday this year of president Abraham Lincoln, the man who ended slavery.

Yet even though Obama felled the ultimate US racial barrier by being elected the first black president, that feat has faded to a footnote as he rolled up his sleeves in the first week of January to begin bartering with a resistant Democratic Congress over his request for another $800 billion to stimulate the flagging economy.

The former Illinois senator may have to forego the traditional honeymoon with Congress as he seeks to wrestle problems to the ground.

“We’re not trying to jam anything down people’s throats,” Obama said in a broadcast interview recently.

But he warned that another four million US jobs could disappear in 2009 if Congress failed to act, and that the legislature would “hear” from him if they didn’t pass his programme by Feb 13.

“The sooner a recovery and reinvestment package is in place, the sooner we can start turning the economy around,” he vowed.

Unfazed by what looms ahead, Obama took time to get to know Washington before his inauguration, stopping at the famous Ben’s Chili Bowl restaurant for a hot dog and visiting the Lincoln Memorial with wife Michelle and daughters Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7. The family came to town early so the girls could start school.

All told, he has projected supreme confidence that he can conquer whatever came along, while warning that the economic recovery will be slow.

He’ll gather wind to his sails from well wishers as the choreographed pre-inaugural activities start Saturday, when Obama boards a train in Philadelphia to re-enact the last stage of Lincoln’s train journey into Washington in 1861 just as the US Civil War was brewing.

On Sunday, a free outdoor concert on the Mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial will include Beyonce, Bono, Garth Brooks, Sheryl Crow, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder. Readings will be given by Queen Latifah and Denzel Washington.

On Monday, the official celebration of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Day, the Obamas will join in one of the nationwide service projects traditionally held on this day. And Tuesday, up to two million people are expected to pile onto the Mall as Obama is sworn in at noon.

For a world which sees the US tarnished by Bush’s go-it-alone attitude, the controversial Guantanamo prison camp and the US military abuses against detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Obama has pledged to restore Washington’s international standing through more direct diplomacy and a return to the respect for human rights that has been one of the nation’s historical hallmarks.

He has signalled it would be a “challenge” to close down Guantanamo in his first 100 days in office, despite huge international pressure to do so. But he indicated he would move “swiftly” to find a “new approach” to the Iranian nuclear crisis, which he regards as one of his biggest diplomatic challenges.

Obama will inherit a record $1.2-trillion deficit from Bush, a sum that could rise to $1.8-trillion even if all tax cuts are repealed in the next year. Instead, he has backed away from his pledge to immediately repeal Bush’s tax cuts and has instead proposed new cuts.

The president-elect has signalled that the financial recovery will be long and arduous.

“Everybody is going to have to give. Everybody is going to have to have some skin in the game,” he said.

Obama’s plan would include investments in infrastructure projects, health care, education and alternative energy sources and tax cuts.

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