Every inauguration is characterized by hope and optimism, and every new administration offers the potential of being historically significant. Of course, President Barack Obama's carried more significance in that he’s the first African-American president, and the fact that the economy is in recession due to the financial crisis.
Obama also represents a radical departure from President Bush in terms of ideology, and is expected to make significant progress initially in enacting an aggressive agenda, as Democrats control both houses of Congress.
My feeling is that the American people will be patient, not expecting immediate results, but they are in the mood for change. I would guess Obama will have both the political clout and acumen to enact significant portions of his agenda in the first 100 days or so, and that he will enjoy an extended period of enthusiastic support.
Obama has done a masterful job of tamping down expectations among the citizenry, but their expectations for the new president remain high. A lot of people are discussing how dangerous this is from a political standpoint and how the slow pace of change from a government perspective could lead to disillusionment among the electorate. It should be a very active time in Washington the next 3-4 months, a time that will be key to shaping the Obama agenda for the next four years.
Historically speaking, assuming office in a time of economic recession is usually a very good thing. After all, the business cycle is fairly dependable, and the current economy should rebound robustly before the 2012 election heats up. Barring any unforeseen foreign policy or ethics scandal, Obama should be almost guaranteed reelection in four years.
Thus, the Obama era is upon us, and is likely to be more transformational than any term of recent times. Putting politics aside, Obama has a unique gift as a communicator and all the circumstances to be able to effect major change. Most importantly, he has the desire and vision to do just that.
Unlike the Bush and Clinton administrations, which were essentially offering nuanced versions of the status quo, Obama is advocating something that represents a major paradigm shift on many fronts. As the excitement begins to wane, it makes sense to keep in mind the reality of change in Washington. That is that the bureaucratic beast and competing interests are larger than any man, even a hugely popular president with a large bully pulpit. It is not something that is changed overnight, but rather over years.