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Wednesday December 31, 2008

Inauguration of the 44th President of the United States

PRESIDENT-Elect Barack Obama promised his wife Michelle he would quit smoking before running for president. He promised Americans all through his presidential campaign that he would effect change in America.

Obama did not keep his promise to his wife: he is still smoking, apparently. But what America wants to know ... no, what the whole world wants to know, is if he will keep his promise to the millions of people who voted him into office.

Already, the eyes of the world are on the president-elect. But come January 20, after his inauguration as the 44th president of the United States of America – the first African American to become Commander in Chief – expectations on Obama will be huge. Will he really be the agent of change he promised to be?

Now, Obama is not inheriting the same America that his predecessor George Bush did. Bush was handed a healthy economy, one with a surplus; Obama has to deal with a budget deficit that some project will be as much as US$1 trillion – he got a country “facing the greatest economic challenge of our lifetime.”

As University of Arizona economist Marshall Vest joked, “Given the state of the economy, whoever wins the election is probably going to ask for a recount.”

No need to worry about that but one thing’s for sure, Obama’s term will certainly not be smooth sailing.

As for the litany of promises he made – tax cuts for middle-income households, creating 2.5 million jobs by 2011, ending the senseless (or “a dumb war” as he puts it) war in Iraq and bringing home American troops, reorganising and expanding the country’s health-care plan, extend unemployment benefits, relief to struggling small businesses and putting in place a progressive energy policy – Obama has acknowledged that even though the economy is his immediate focus, he will not back off on his commitments.

‘’We can’t afford to wait on moving forward on the key priorities that I identified during the campaign, including clean energy, healthcare, education and tax relief for middle-class families,’’ he said recently.

It will also be interesting to see the complete line-up of Obama’s team. So far, we are getting glimpses based on his White House appointments or the candidates he has selected or is said to be considering for a seat in his cabinet: all are well qualified and there is a mix of fresh faces and old hands.

Let’s start with the obvious, Senator Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Clinton and Obama fought a close battle in the Democratic primary election but after he won the nomination, Clinton marched around the country, urging her supporters to vote for him. Some expected Obama to nominate his campaign foe-turned-champion as his running mate but others were certain Clinton would be too dominant a vice president. How would she fare as his Secretary of State? The jury is still out but if my magic 8-ball is anything to go by then: outlook is good.

His other choices include politician and former senior advisor to Bill Clinton, Rahm Emanuel, as his chief of staff at the White House, Robert Gates (who is the present Defence Secretary) to retain his post, Obama’s senior legal adviser Eric Holder as Attorney General and Janet Napolitano as Homeland Security Secretary.

And then, of course, there is the all important choice which what would be the best first-dog for his darling daughters.

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