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Obama's new zeal

He defies a temptation to be cautious in a recession and to not step on many toes.

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After weeks of playing a Jeremiah, full of woe over a recession, President Obama finally became a Churchill in Tuesday's speech before Congress. His broad themes of reform foresee a country ready to toil and "emerge stronger than before." He'll need that vision of hope once Congress gets hold of his budget proposals.

Unlike the $787 billion stimulus package that largely boosts existing programs, Mr. Obama's first federal budget sets new directions in policy and spending – even during an economic crisis – with new projects and deep cuts that will challenge a host of entrenched interests on Capitol Hill.

His defiance against the temptation to avoid bold plans reflects a belief that his ideas for healthcare, education, and energy will improve the economy – in efficiency, well-being, and competitiveness.

Where others may call for caution, he wants to pluck "promise out of peril," or, as his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, quipped: "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste."

At the least, the audacious plans embedded in his budget could rebuild America's confidence, which right now is more gloom than optimism. Since Obama took office, the stock market is off 10 percent and a few big banks appear ripe for federal takeover.

He'll need to retain his optimism as he asks Congress to do so much. Most can-do presidents learn fast not to pick too many fights and instead zero in on one idea at a time and focus their political capital.


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