Barack Obama becomes the 44th President of the United States today. It's history in the making. However, he assumes incredibly complex challenges created in the past and these are not only his problems, they become our problems. His challenges are our challenges. Still, he continues to deliver a message of hope about a brighter future. This duality -- the problems of the past versus the hope of the future -- has marked Obama's life. It began with his birth to a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya. He has always acknowledged his early struggles with being biracial. And though his parents' union failed, he dreamed big. Every challenge he faced, he overcame. Does Obama's past success mean he can deliver a more prosperous future for us all? I hope he can. ( Photo gallery: Obama Takes Office) Obama must first contend with the challenge of perception. He arrives in office with an amazingly high approval rating, including an 84% approval of his transition to power, according to CNN. He has been compared favorably with great orators such as Rev. Martin Luther King and another president who inspired a generation: John F. Kennedy. These are great expectations. In fact as I write, I'm staring at a Starbucks' coffee cup, which demonstrates the extent to which Obama's ascension has pervaded pop culture. It repeats the famous quote from Kennedy's inaugural address: "And so, my fellow American's: ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country."
Obama's success has always been based on the help of others. Those inspired by and riding atop his wave of idealism. Many expect him to deliver an inaugural address that will combine the dream of MLK and the call to action of JFK. I hope he can. Obama's second challenge comes as he faces a new Congress. Rumblings have already been issued from Democrats concerned that his economic stimulus plan might be too small with too many tax cuts. Meanwhile, Republicans are demanding more economic stimulus in the form of tax cuts and an increase in spending cuts. Obama worked hard to lobby both Democrats and Republicans to favor his solutions for the economy. He had his first success before even coming into office, when the Senate gave its approval for the release of the second $350 billion in TARP funds. The House is expected to follow suit this week. Under outgoing Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, most of the federal bailout funds have gone to megabanks such as Citigroup ( C), Bank of America ( BAC), Goldman Sachs ( GS) and JPMorgan Chase ( JPM). Despite those efforts, the credit markets remain tight and money isn't flowing to consumers as hoped. Obama will have to continue walking a tightrope with Congress. He must avoid the downfall of former President Bill Clinton, who antagonized his own Democratic party by urging the passage of Nafta. Clinton went on to anger both Democrats and Republicans with the secretive introduction of a national health care plan, which failed miserably.
The resulting rancor has gripped Congress for the past two decades. Obama has promised to reduce tensions with legislators by eliminating earmarks that haven't been debated, decreasing the power of special interests, and increasing transparency of government spending. He requires the help of the public to end the logjam that Congress has become. I hope he can. However, passing legislation in Congress will not solve all our pressing problems. Pundits have attempted to find a historical context by comparing our economic weaknesses to the Great Depression prior to FDR's election in 1932 and linking our mental malaise to the unease before the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. It's different this time. The many problems our nation faces are unique from the past and extend well beyond our borders. News over the weekend demonstrated the global financial crisis continues to spread. The Royal Bank of Scotland ( RBS)announced huge losses and analysts predict banks like HSBC ( HBC) -- previously thought to have survived the subprime crisis -- would have to raise capital. The world has become increasingly global since the fall of communism in the Soviet Union and the introduction of the personal computer and the Internet. Our problems are shared by the world. Obama will have to do what President George W. Bush was unable to accomplish fully after the shock of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the economic crisis of the last few years. Obama must use his leadership here at home to renew the economic might of America and our moral standing in the world.
This task demands difficult decisions. It begins with reforming the way that Wall Street works. Obama must bring transparency back to the securities markets ending the secretive workings of both the credit default swap market and the hedge fund world and revising the regulations overseeing the markets. If he accomplishes this, investors around the world will continue to trust in the future of America and continue to believe in American capitalism. I hope he can.