Small Shoes To Fill

Hendrik Hertzberg:

It has been widely said that never has so much been expected of an incoming President, but that’s only half right. The public clearly expects quick action, but the outlook for the near future is so grim that few expect quick results. Obama himself has been stressing the urgency of the first and the need for patience with regard to the second.

Speaking on the economy last Thursday at George Mason University, he called for “dramatic action as soon as possible” to deal with “a crisis unlike any we have seen in our lifetime, a crisis that has only deepened over the last few weeks.” Resolving that crisis, he added, “will take timeperhaps many years.” What the public does anticipate is not miracles but competence, and its confidence in Obama’s abilities has grown. In the most recent surveya CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released on December 24theighty-two per cent of those questioned said they approved of Obama’s performance during the transition. Of course, the esteem in which Presidents-elect are held always increases as the rancor of the campaign begins to fade, and feelings of good will are always plentiful at Christmastime. Still, Obama’s ratings are unusually highfifteen points higher than either of his two predecessors’ at the corresponding moment in their transitions, and arguably higher than anyone’s since the modern era of polling began. “Obama walks in with nearly twice the support on the economy that President-elect Clinton had in January, 1993, and he beats Ronald Reagan as well,” Keating Holland, CNN’s polling director, said.