Obama Runs for Daylight

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Presidents' ambitions always exceed their time in office.  There is always a mountain of important, unfinished business fueling urgency in their approach to the job.  

This is strikingly evident in Barack Obama's presidency at present.  In the wake of his health care victory, Obama is energetically acting to press many agenda items at once, including offshore oil drilling, an arms-reduction pact with Russia, financial reform, an immigration bill and climate change legislation in Congress. In addition, he just wedged into his schedule a surprise trip to Afghanistan.

This moment resembles that split second in a football game when a hole opens in the line and, carrying the ball, a running back heads for it. Will the hole close? Will it stay open and permit a big gain? The ball carrier must chase the opportunity.

We know this particular opportunity will end for Obama. Such opportunities always do. It is likely, given present polls, the end will come at the latest next November when his congressional majorities are eroded or lost. So Obama understands he needs to act--fast--now for two reasons.

First, since the portents for November are bad, this marks a period when Obama can make his mark on events and perhaps alter those trends. Presidents have the most agenda power of anyone in the world, and Obama, fresh from a major legislative victory, has found that power temporarily renewed. Perhaps by further achievements he can produce a more positive public verdict in the November 2010 elections.

Second, even if that November result is inevitable, now may mark one of the best opportunities in his presidency to press for completion of his agenda.  Even if his wings are clipped at the end of the year, there is a possibility of achievement now that will become a major part of his record.

So Obama finds himself at a moment of urgency early in his presidency. Expect much action and public presence from him between now and November. He is running for daylight, but running against time.

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Presented by

Steven Schier

Steven E. Schier is the Dorothy H. and Edward C. Congdon Professor of Political Science at Carleton College. His columns have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Chicago Tribune, Washington Monthly, Brookings Review and other publications. Visit his Web site here .

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