News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mark Bennett Opinion

February 13, 2010

MARK BENNETT: Americans� �we want it now� mentality may have to wait

TERRE HAUTE — Before a rapt audience in the Terre Haute North Vigo High School gym, Barack Obama made a statement that carries added significance now, 22 months later.

�The American people are not looking for a way to bring each other down, but to find a way to lift this country up,� he said on April 11, 2008.

Obama was a Democratic presidential candidate then, locked in a tight race with fellow U.S. senator Hillary Clinton for the nomination. People in the crowd of 2,700 heard about health care, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the snowballing recession, spiraling college tuition, and the home mortgage crisis. They cheered. That November, of course, he won the presidency, and took office in January 2009.

Barely a year into his term, now, those problems have not vanished. Such a rapid, multi-pronged cure would�ve been miraculous.

But this is the 21st century. Repairs, even to something as monolithic and unfathomably complex as the U.S. economy, must happen with speed equal to that of the Internet.

A handful of presidents have inherited similar societal hairballs. Obviously, Abraham Lincoln (with the Civil War) and Franklin Roosevelt (the Great Depression) stepped into crises, as well as William McKinley, with the Panic of 1896, said James Hilty, dean of Temple University Ambler and a nationally published presidential scholar. Lincoln�s task was incomparable. As for FDR and McKinley, time was less of an enemy, and fewer members of Congress were fighting their efforts, compared to Obama�s situation.

�It�s a very different environment today,� said Hilty, who has published works on Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Clinton and George W. Bush, along with the 1998 book �Robert Kennedy: Brother Protector.�

�I�ll blame the 24-hour news cycles,� Hilty said by telephone Thursday from Ambler, Pa. �But I also blame the basic immaturity of the country. We want something, and we want it right now. And the people who have the most outlandish things to say get the most attention.�

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