We are in a new age, the age of Obama. The mainstream media has given us a laundry list of things the new president is scheduled to worry about: Iran, Israel/Palestine, North Korea, Pakistan, Venezuela, and the economy, the economy, and the economy.
But beyond these immediate issues are fundamental questions, questions that go to the character of our policies and the strength of our ideals. How the new president deals with these questions may have far more to do with success or failure than the everyday detail of governing.
There are these fundamental questions. They represent challenges for President Obama:
1) Mr. President, are you prepared to affirm that the free nations are in a decades-long battle against Islamic extremism, or are you going to lean toward the old notion that this is a police problem?
Say what you wish about George W. Bush, but he defined the problem correctly after 9-11, and, thanks to that definition, the United States was able to make a reasonably effective stand against terrorism. Some 46 percent of Americans, in the last election, voted for John McCain, in part because they believed he would continue a vigorous fight against the extremist menace. Mr. Obama would advance the national interest and foster American unity if he would publicly accept the basics of the Bush definition.
2) Are you prepared, in the speech you plan to deliver in a Muslim capital, to explain directly and forthrightly our disagreements with fundamentalist Islam, and how America and the Islamic world might work together toward a more positive future?
One of Mr. Bush's failures was an inability to communicate internationally. Mr. Obama is a wonderful speaker, with a partly Muslim background. If he goes to a Muslim capital and simply spouts politically correct bromides about peace, he will disappoint all sides. He can advance both peace and America's security if he engages the Muslim world about why we have been fighting in several Muslim countries, and what it will take to have better relations with the West. He can also offer incentives that will benefit those nations that start to reform. And it would be helpful if he would reaffirm, in a Muslim capital, our commitment to Israel and explain that it stems from American principles, not a "lobby."
3) Mr. President, are you prepared to stress to the American people the need to remain strong and stalwart, and the need to sacrifice, in the international battles ahead - as President Kennedy did in his inaugural address?
Just before his death in 1964, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur worried that there might come a day when Americans would be unwilling to defend their country. That willingness often depends on a leadership that honors the soldier and respects national defense. President Obama has, commendably, shown great respect for military service, witness his placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery two days before his inauguration. He could make a further contribution by stressing, especially to young people, the notion of an America committed to its own survival, no matter what sacrifice it takes, monetary and physical. The idea of patriotic sacrifice has become frighteningly foreign to a young, indulged generation.
4) Are you prepared, as were Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan, to keep political fringes, and their ideologies, at a certain distance, truly becoming a president of all the people?
President Roosevelt borrowed ideas from the socialist movement, but kept that movement at a distance. He kept his appeal as broad as possible, which accounted for his electoral success.
We recall that, in 1948, Harry Truman was prepared to see the southern wing of his party walk out of the Democratic national convention over the issue of civil rights. What is often forgotten is that the far left of the party also departed that year, miffed over Truman's policy of resisting the Soviet Union. Former Democratic Vice President Henry Wallace ran against Truman in the November, 1948, election on the Progressive ticket. The left wing is now back in force, and believes it "owns" President Obama because it supported him so strongly. Commendably, Mr. Obama has made it clear since the election that he isn't owned by any faction, and has sought the advice even of John McCain. We hope that continues, and that he doesn't buckle under pressure from the more radical members of his party's congressional wing.
Similarly, Ronald Reagan, although regarded by some as an arch conservative, actually kept the fringe of his movement at a considerable distance, governing largely as a center-right leader, understanding that the national interest, and his own political interest, demanded it.
5) Domestically, are you prepared, Mr. President, to take on the educational establishment? In particular, are you prepared to confront our colleges and universities, and demand an accounting of what they spend, and why, before committing to billions more in federal aid?
Two news stories in the last week were particularly disturbing. One reported that colleges are raising their charges dramatically, even in the midst of a major economic decline. The other reported that the percentage of resources devoted to administration in our colleges is going up, but the percentage devoted to instruction is going down. And there are simply too many disturbing reports - too many to ignore - of teachers far more concerned with ideological indoctrination than with traditional teaching.
Parents are paying enormous amounts to send their kids to college. In economic hard times, many families are priced out of the education market. Yet, no questions are asked of our colleges, about where money goes, about extravagant mailings to prospective students, about "academic" departments that often seem more like cheerleaders for one group or another. Our colleges are too important to the future of the country to go unchallenged when they seem indulgent, profligate, and propagandistic.
6) Finally, President Obama, are you willing to defy the environmental/global-warming industry and have the entire issue of global warming studied by independent panels, before we spend trillions on a problem that may not be a problem at all?
We are told there is a "consensus" about global warming. But consensus is a political word, not a scientific one. Increasingly, well-credentialed scientists are coming forward to question different aspects of the global-warming "consensus." President Obama has thus far not joined in the skepticism, and, indeed, his scientific and environmental advisers are all members of the global-warming choir. But we need a true, vigorous, scientific and economic debate to determine the real extent of global warming, its probable effect down the line, and what, if anything, should be done about it. So far what we've gotten is a kind of religious movement,
with a potential for enormous economic damage to fragile economies, and damage to our own national security.
Those are some questions for our new president. We hope he will address them.