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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 11, 2009

New president shows he's ready to work and willing to lead

By David Shapiro

From listening to the cable news babble and reading some of the headlines, you'd think the early weeks of President Obama's administration have been mired in missteps, lost message wars and rookie mistakes.

But if you cut through the daily analytical chatter and take a broader view, it's an entirely different picture of a new president pretty much gliding through his first three weeks.

Obama tried the bipartisan approach to fashioning an economic stimulus package, as he promised he would, but when the Republicans wouldn't play he went on the offensive to remind them who won the election.

"It's a little hard for me to take criticism from folks about this recovery package after they've presided over a doubling of the national debt," Obama said in his news conference Monday.

Any questions about who was winning the message battle seemed answered by polls showing Obama with twice the public approval as GOP lawmakers.

After all the hand-wringing in the media about early stumbles, the president will very likely get the economic package he wants, on pretty much the schedule he asked for, with or without significant GOP support.

He's survived the embarrassing tax and ethical issues that forced a couple of his Cabinet nominees to drop out without suffering long-term tarnish if there are no repeats, and the complex process of transferring the reins of foreign policy is getting done without any global disasters.

In a short time, Obama has made fundamental changes from Bush administration policy on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, intelligence and interrogation practices, energy and the environment, and abortion and stem cell research. He's done it with a sense of cool confidence and has seldom departed from the high road in preaching "civility and rational argument."

A conservative-minded observer said that whatever you think about Obama's policies, you have to admire his self-assurance. "What's amazing about it is that either it's extremely well-contrived or it's the real thing and I tend to feel the latter," he said.

Obama's confidence is an entirely different thing from the cocky bravado that George W. Bush never quite sold or the glib conceit that was Bill Clinton's undoing.

The last president to project so strong a sense of inner strength was Obama's ideological opposite, Ronald Reagan and Reagan was a trained actor while Obama seems to be a natural.

Other politicians who try to hold themselves up in contrast to Obama, like our own Gov. Linda Lingle, seem to get the worst of it every time.

Lingle gave an interview to KHON-TV explaining why she didn't join other Republican governors including Alaska's Sarah Palin in urging passage of the stimulus package because of the billions it would give budget-strapped states.

"I have issues with parts of it," Lingle said. "I think some of the points being made by the Republicans (in Congress) are absolutely correct."

Whatever the quibbling points, Obama has been in office for three weeks and has stepped up to lead the nation through an economic crisis he inherited with bold and specific proposals that could destroy his political career if they fail.

By comparison, Lingle has been in office for six years but gave a State of the State speech that shrank away from any specific ideas for dealing with the Hawai'i's record budget deficit and now she wants the Legislature to delay its normal budgeting schedule for a month to give her more waffling time.

It only serves to remind that some people run for office to hold a job while others run to do a job.

David Shapiro, a veteran Hawai'i journalist, can be reached by e-mail at dave@volcanicash.net. His columns are archived at www.volcanicash.net. Read his daily blog at blogs.honoluluadvertiser.com.