What To Expect From Obama Now America has decided. Barack Obama will be inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States on Jan. 20, 2009. Madeleine Brand and Alex Chadwick talk to Slate.com's chief political correspondent John Dickerson about the election results and what Americans can expect from their new president.
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What To Expect From Obama Now

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What To Expect From Obama Now

What To Expect From Obama Now

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Thank you, Alex. And let's begin the show with some political analysis from John Dickerson. He's chief political correspondent for Slate. And, John, you'll be with us throughout the show, and before we get to the cold hard facts, let's get your impressions. You were in Grant park last night. Some 200,000 Obama supporters were there. What was it like?

Mr. JOHN DICKERSON (Chief Political Correspondent, Slate Magazine): Well, the first thing that was striking is that it wasn't cold. It was the - the weather was so perfect. It was, in fact, it was so perfect that, if it had happened earlier in the race, it's one of those things you might have gotten one of those strange e-mail rumors about - that Obama had control over the weather, too.

The crowd was enormous. They were fired-up. There was this huge jumbo-tron screen on which the results were being displayed on CNN, and so, of course, as it came in, and it fall - it fell, first New Hampshire for Obama, then Pennsylvania, and then the red states started coming in. The crowd was going crazy.

What was striking about the speeches, after having covered Senator Obama for more than 20 months and seeing all the blue placards with Change on it and the rally atmosphere, this was very different than that. This was a presidential speech. The placards were gone, and American flags were being waved by people in the crowd.

And the speech itself was - there was no humor. It was a very serious speech. And though it had lots of optimism in it, it was about the challenges that we face as a country. And so, it really felt - and they, of course, set it up that way, so that it would be a pivot from the campaign Obama to the governing Obama. And one last observation is that he was surrounded on both sides by what looked like two huge parenthesis, massive bullet proof glass on either side of him as he spoke, protecting him from most of that crowd of roughly 200,000.

BRAND: Well, let's talk about that pivot. We heard that Barack Obama will be speaking with President Bush sometime, perhaps, this week?

Mr. DICKERSON: He will be. He'll be having lots of conversations with President Bush, with Secretary of Treasury Paulson, Secretary Gates at the Pentagon. These are all conversations he will have. He's got a couple of different tasks. One, of course, is to name his team going forward, but then also to deal with some things that are right in front of him.

There are decisions to be made both - Congress is coming back to hold a session to talk about another stimulus package. And then, of course, there's a meeting at the White House of international leaders, to which Senator Obama has been invited. And so, he already sort of has a to-do list before he's even in office. That goes beyond what presidents traditionally face, which is merely putting together a cabinet and putting together a White House staff.

BRAND: Yeah, I was going to say, when was the last time this happened, that almost the day after or even the night of his election, he's already planning. He's already governing, in a sense.

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, it's a good question, and I - the first example that comes to mind would be, when Ronald Reagan was elected, of course, there was still the on-going hostage crisis in Iran. Now, that was resolved almost immediately after he was inaugurated. But when he was elected, this was the kind of thing that was - it was an ongoing crisis that he had to be integrated into.

But there certainly has been - it's not really since 1933 that we've had a president that's had to face this kind of really difficult - at least certainly domestics problem. And also, of course, as he mentioned last night, we're in the middle of two wars, as well. So, there's not a lot of rest for Senator Obama now to enjoy his victory.

BRAND: Now, you write today that there are six ways that he can be a different kind of president. And the first one, you say, is to embrace John McCain.

Mr. DICKERSON: Yes. And Senator Obama did that in his speech last night, where he talked about McCain's heroism in the service, his service to the country. Senator Obama has talked a great deal about getting past the left-right, red state-blue state paradigm. And so, reaching out the Republicans will be part of his administration, and this is one way he can do that in a sort of highly-symbolic way.

But also, John McCain is looking to the end of his career. He's not going to suddenly become a kind of lockstep GOP senator. He would prefer to end his career as the sort of old John McCain, as it was phrased during the campaign - that sometimes works with Democrats.

And in a Senate where the Democrats don't have 60 votes, there is an opportunity there. Both sides see an opportunity for an alliance on certain issues, on, say, energy would be one that comes to mind and climate control right away, where McCain could be an ally in the Senate in helping Senator Obama get some work done, and it would be in both men's personal interest.

BRAND: And speaking of that work getting done, what do you expect will be his first major initiative?

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, as he said during the campaign - and this seems to be the case, he will call together his military advisors and start to begin the withdrawal from Iraq. And so, that is one of the first things he can do. But then, of course, the other major priorities, there's some energy legislation and reforming the healthcare system.

BRAND: OK. Slate.com's chief political correspondent, John Dickerson. Thank you and please stick around, so we can talk more about the election and who voted for whom and why.

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