Obama won’t fix all our problems, but he’ll be a good start

It should go without saying that the next president faces a bevy of difficult issues as he takes office in just a few days.

After working as a staff member for four months on Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in Ohio, and after having several months to cool off and collect my thoughts, I can sum up why I and so many millions of other young, college-aged individuals put aside our lives to help elect our new president.

The fundamental difference between Obama and Republican opponent John McCain went beyond the mere left-right partisan paradigm; what Obama possessed that McCain sorely lacked was a calm, even-keeled temperament.

As Obama prepares to take on one of the worst economic crises in our nation’s history, tackle two overseas wars and a volatile situation in Gaza, the climate crisis, and the

ballooning federal budget deficit, Americans should feel confident in Obama for precisely the reason above stated.

After eight grueling years of a president who refused to take responsibility when he was wrong and almost never changed course, particularly in regards to foreign policy, even when the conditions on the ground and the reports from his commanders dictated it, what America needs is a president with a penchant for sober, intellectual consideration of his options.

Despite Obama’s redeeming qualities, there is already much seething on the left over perceived slights committed by the Obama transition and inaugural teams. Most of the criticism is, in a word, overblown. To begin with, many antiwar activists are critical of Obama’s selections for positions of national security, combined with what they perceive to be his backing off of positions he took on foreign policy during the campaign. What these criticisms miss is that Obama was never a dyed-in-the-wool liberal on any issue, least of all foreign policy.

Obama is shaping up to be as president – and has indeed always been – a pragmatist and a realist. While these are both admittedly loaded words, they are telling about the direction that Obama intends to take his administration over the next four (or hopefully eight) years. It appears that his administration will be a repudiation of the reactionary and ideological politics that have robbed our country of its economic prosperity and international prestige during the Bush years.

The Obama campaign saw an unprecedented interest among young people in terms of both voter turnout and volunteer interest. I saw it myself in Portsmouth, Ohio, where a traditionally apathetic commuter school, Shawnee State University, was transformed, through the persistent efforts of students and professors working in tandem, into a hotbed of political activism culminating in the university hosting the only event with Obama to touch deep Southern Ohio. I had the honor of speaking at that event, and I saw on the faces of those students a hunger and a passion unlike any I’ve seen before.

While the passion among young people is something to be celebrated, its celebration must also come with this caveat: we have only gotten one man elected. Obama does not offer a panacea for the world’s problems, and we must prepare ourselves for the inevitable disappointments of his term in office. I trust he will be a good president, even a transformative one, but we return to our civic apathy and political sloth not only at our own peril, but at the peril of future generations.

Our generation has always taken for granted the hegemony of American democracy in the world, and the long-term solvency of the American economy. We are now being rudely awakened from this halcyon dream, and not a moment too soon. It appears that things will get worse before they get better, but far from being a reason for despair, this is a reason to rally for the same reasons we rallied during the 2008 election cycle.

Change is at hand, but only if we reach out and grab it.