The joys of an activist presidency

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By Rick Howell

    On every possible issue confronting the American people in this year of 2009 and beyond, the new president of the United States has made one thing clear: He intends to make his mark on all of them.

    In his first address to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 24, Barack Obama demonstrated again the idealism and the belief in hoping for the best, then actually trying to make change happen that got him so easily elected.

    Obama’s agenda is being called “ambitious” by the television talking heads. That means it’s an obvious contrast to the approach that conservatives take, which is basically this: We don’t believe in government anyway, so why would we try to use it for anything?

    Obama is embarking upon what will be the most activist presidency probably since Lyndon Johnson. Given the myriad of problems we face in this country, it’s not surprising that most Americans chose this approach when they voted in November.

    From health care to global warming - and first and foremost, the economy - Obama will confront these problems with specific proposals for success, and a Democratic majority in Congress to get them passed.

    Almost every day there’s been a new policy initiative. That’s partly because the administration is still in its beginnings. But Obama’s activities make you wonder what George W. Bush ever did, besides, of course, the invasion of Iraq, his prized possession.

    Speaking of which, the administration was announcing as this was written that American combat troops would finally leave Iraq by August of next year. There was debate over how many non-combat forces would be left after that time for roughly another year, but at long last we can see the end of a war that should never have started.

    Even though this year’s defense budget is still too high, the president also said in his address that “Cold War-era” weapons systems we don’t need and that are enormously expensive will finally be ended. In an era when all spending is being scrutinized, the Pentagon budget should be under the microscope just like anything else.

    The president will carry out his promise to roll back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest taxpayers. Those making certain six-figure incomes will be expected to pay more, and that’s only fair. Conservative Republicans were always wrong about throwing money at the rich, and that policy will be reversed.

    Obama will continue supporting “faith-based initiatives,” something started by Bush. But he won’t sanction government funding for any religious group that discriminates in hiring, and he does understand the constitutional necessity of separation of church and state.

    He’s the only president I remember who insists on mentioning non-believers every time he mentions those who are religious (as he is, too). This tells me he understands that, in the final analysis, religion is a private matter where the government must not intrude. He has no “Christian conservative” illusions or agenda.

    The times call for an activist presidency, and that’s obviously what we have in this president. That does not mean, though, that he will always succeed. President Johnson didn’t succeed in quite the grand way he wanted to, although Medicare and Medicaid alone justify his attempt at a “Great Society.” Not to mention civil rights laws.

    This president sees the Herculean task before him and he’s not afraid to take action to address it. That’s the definition of an activist presidency, and it’s also the exact reason he was elected.

Rick Howell, a Bedford native, is a member of the Roanoke City Democratic Committee, and can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com