Lead on, Obama: Cut your own pay

President-elect Barack Obama has already demonstrated a sensible impulse: to make haste slowly as he prepares to tackle the nation’s pressing issues in a pro-active, bipartisan manner. His next steps will be most effective if they captivate, inspire, energize and assist Americans.

Obama has no choice about the No. 1 priority, the economy, and he cannot avoid great expectations, however unrealistic those might be. Preoccupied with rising unemployment, business failures, the home-mortgage morass, tight credit and general uncertainty about the future, Americans want answers. And they have little patience.

Fortunately, opportunity knocks from the conversation on the most recently spotlighted ailing sector: the auto industry. Obama favors swift emergency help; I am certain that some kind of bailout will emerge. As I have said in the past, federal-government financial props for suffering businesses are hardly ideal, but the nation cannot afford to sit idly by as unusually turbulent circumstances ravage economic icons.

It is essential, though, for Obama to set the tone for these and other debates about bailouts by underscoring his own commitment to cut spending and willingness to sacrifice. He should start by voluntarily reducing his own presidential salary.

Some have argued that Obama would ensure the greatest impact by entirely waiving his compensation for at least a year.


Indeed, should he agree to a salary reduction, he would be positioned to press the heads of businesses seeking government bailouts to cut their personal salaries by the same percentage. Not only would such a decision impress employees, shareholders and consumers, it would save jobs.

Beyond rhetoric, Obama should display his trademark, can-do optimism by outlining ideas to stimulate the economy during the long term, including a strategy much bolder than any presented in the campaign to rebuild the "infrastructure of America." To me, that concept, broadly defined, means not only transportation systems, communications and public utilities but schools, military capabilities devoured by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and energy alternatives.

Along the way, an overarching goal should be to respect and protect the environment. That kind of initiative would put people back to work and leave the nation in an enhanced position once the recovery comes.

A specific issue that I hope Obama will seize and make his own received a brief mention in his post-election acceptance speech: slavery. Sadly, slavery not only remains but thrives in the 21st-century world. A clear, powerful, anti-slavery statement, as part of an expanded emphasis on human rights, belongs in Obama’s inauguration speech.

Although he cannot issue an Emancipation Proclamation for the world, he can declare the realistic objective of substantially ending slavery within a generation. Finally, Obama must reach across the political aisle early and often, and not simply in terms of a bipartisan selection process for his Cabinet and other key positions. To succeed and make a difference sooner rather than later, he must govern from the middle.

If Obama starts with these steps, he surely will captivate, inspire, energize and assist Americans.

John C. Bersia, who won a Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing for the Orlando Sentinel in 2000, is the special assistant to the president for global perspectives at the University of Central Florida.

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