As the inaugural crowds pack their bags and head home from Washington, suffused with the sense of having been part of history, the time has come for the media to pack away their superlatives and start treating Barack Obama like a president, not a monument. As Washington Post columnist Dan Froomkin wrote yesterday:
We must assertively question Obama about what he’s doing, why he’s doing it and how he’s doing it. We should insist on answers to our questions. And we should aggressively examine those assertions that strikes us as dubious….
Obama’s promise to focus more on what’s best for the country obliges us to at least consider how he’s doing by that standard. We should hold Obama to his bold pledges. And if he keeps them, we should rise to the occasion. Rather than be too cynical, or focus too much on the superficial and the political, we should embrace an opportunity that we haven’t had in quite some time: To publicly explore the important issues and decisions facing our nation and our world.
In the spirit of exploration, we offer seven tough questions on seven perhaps-overlooked issues, questions that the press might consider asking in the weeks and months to come.
Will Obama be bold in his efforts to fix the economy?
Even casual business press readers are aware that the fate of the real economy hinges on dispelling the deep uncertainty that hangs over the banking system. A series of emergency measures by the Bush administration, bailouts in different forms, have failed to instill confidence that major institutions are, in fact, solvent. The question for the financial press is whether a bolder stroke—nationalization—is required, and whether the Obama administration is prepared to administer such a remedy. Calls for a temporary government takeover of big institutions have begun to come from influential columnists, including Paul Krugman in The New York Times
and Willem Buiter in the Financial Times. Will a consensus on bank nationalization form as it did, so quickly, on the need for a large economic stimulus? Stay tuned. –Dean Starkman
Will he ignore immigration reform?
A recent AP article quoted Mexico expert George Grayson, a professor at the College of William & Mary, as saying, “The chance of having immigration reform is like having it snow in the dessert.” With two wars abroad and a tanking economy, the once-timely issue has, it’s true, taken a bit of a back seat. Pres. Obama’s agenda on immigration includes creating secure borders, bringing people “out of the shadows” and onto a path to citizenship, and working with Mexico to decrease illegal immigration. (His underreported meeting with Mexican president Felipe Calderon last Monday covered these points of discussion, alongside trade and drug violence.) The danger is that, in the face of more pressing issues, immigration reform will be neglected. That would be a mistake: immigration affects and informs too many other things, from labor economics to the war against drugs to education reform. So while the press should, obviously, monitor the administration’s stated goals, it should also—and perhaps more importantly—keep the discussion on the table by monitoring and reporting out the consequences of action (or inaction) through those other, more high profile lenses. –Jane Kim
Will he follow through on his promises to fund early childhood education?
On December 17, the New York Times reported on A-1 (headline: “Obama Pledge Stirs Hope in Early Education”) that “many advocates are atremble with anticipation over Mr. Obama’s espousal of early childhood education.” As I wrote back then:
It’s potentially a very big deal (“the $10 billion Mr. Obama has pledged for early childhood education would amount to the largest new federal initiative for young children since Head Start began in 1965.”) One can understand the hopeful anticipation that the Times reporter, Sam Dillon, found among those involved in early childhood education. To Scarborough’s point (I think) [On MSNBC, Joe Scarborough took the Times to task for the lack of skepticism in this piece], where’s the buzzkill “to be sure” paragraph in this piece? Where the reporter reminds readers that These Are Promises. Made By a Campaigning Politician (albeit one who truly does seem to hold early childhood education as a high priority). Confronting now a recession and so many larger (adult) hands also held out hopefully ($700 billion for banks. $10 billion for babies…) Hopefully the Times will also front-page what becomes of these promises. Keep in touch with these “advocates atremble with anticipation” and report back.