On Tuesday, January 20, 2009, Barack Obama becomes the 44th President of the United States.
With the possible exception of Franklin Roosevelt, probably the only other person to face such a staggering high level of expectations was Babe Ruth following his purchase by the New York Yankees in 1919 for the equally staggering sum of $200,000. (Roosevelt only cost $75,000 per year.)
In an interview with the Center for Public Integrity, Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution reflecting on “Our Broken Government” said, “I think we’ll look back on [the last eight years] as one of the most destructive periods in American public life… embracing policies and actions that have come back to haunt us.”
Working with Executive Director Wade Clark Roof of the Walter H. Capps Center for the Study of Ethics, Religion and Public Life, the first question we asked Americans in a poll about what they expect from the next president and Congress was this: “What one or two qualities do you think the country needs most from the new president?”
Drawing from more than 3,300 write-in responses, here are five ideas that President-elect Obama might want to consider:
Complete Honesty, Unquestionable Integrity – More than anything else, Americans want their new president to be truthful, no matter how difficult that truth may be. And they want a leader who acts out of the highest level of integrity. If elected officials are ever going to “restore the confidence and trust in government” that Americans are hungry for, we need a president who will stand for nothing less.
Calm Leadership, Unifying Vision – Americans want a president who will demonstrate steady, decisive leadership in solving critical issues. And they want him to articulate a clear, inclusive vision that will bring people together “for the common good of the nation.” Mr. Obama needs to not only show us the path, but communicate in words and actions how we will navigate the challenges we will face to reach a better place.
Ability to Listen to Others – While many respondents said that they want “wisely chosen advisors,” they also expect President Obama to practice the necessary humility and intelligence to listen that advice. (As my wife reminds me, “Just say you don’t know, if you don’t know.”)
Diplomacy and Consensus-Building – When has it ever been easy for a president to work with Congress; even those within his own party?With an economy in turmoil, and unemployment climbing, it’s more important than ever that Mr. Obama practice the kind of open-minded, consensus-building skills that will foster cooperation and support from members of Congress. Of course, Congress must share in this collaboration, as well. Positive results will return a level of respect to Washington that has been absent in the eyes of the American public.
Sense of Personal Responsibility – Americans are calling for Mr. Obama to adopt a “sense of personal, moral responsibility to his leadership of the country.” They’re asking him to “get us back to the individualism and personal responsibility that this country was founded on.”
If Americans are to have, in Mr. Obama’s words, “hope in the face of uncertainty,” and a belief in better days ahead, then he will need to strive to live up to the highest standards of those leaders who have come before him; leaders who, in times of great crisis, united the country and helped us to believe in the better angels of our nature.