Cultural or Structural

Obama on the campaign
Obama on the campaign

Since the election over a month ago I have been torn about what to think of the transitioning Obama administration. On the one hand he is appointing some rivals to his cabinet, notably Clinton. On the other hand, though, some of his appointments, again sticking with the Clinton appointment, have simply continued the prevalence of “Washington insiders.” This has simply reaffirmed my hesitancies that caused me to actually not vote for either Obama nor McCain.

My concerns lie in the question of whether President-elect Obama will be bringing deep structural change to government or will he simply bring a vast cultural shift? While from my stand point as a liberal-leaning college student a significant change in culture would certainly be acceptable it is not the type of change that I believe is necessary after the current President Bush’s terms in office.

What I would like to believe the “Change” in Obama’s campaign stood for is real, structural change in the way in which the American government functions and regulates itself. This is why I am hesitant about appointments like Clinton’s: I fear that they will simply perpetuate the federal government current modus operandi. During the primaries I was hoping that Obama would be pushing for a critical reevaluation of federal spending and departments.

I hoped for more than reallocations of spending, but a new examination of the organization and operation of such agencies as the Department of Education. Using the example of the Department of Education I was hoping to see a reassessment of what the federal role in education ought to be. Instead, Obama is simply advocating a reform of the current laws. For example, in regard to No Child Left Behind Obama’s transition website states:

Obama and Biden will reform NCLB, which starts by funding the law. Obama and Biden believe teachers should not be forced to spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests. They will improve the assessments used to track student progress to measure readiness for college and the workplace and improve student learning in a timely, individualized manner. Obama and Biden will also improve NCLB’s accountability system so that we are supporting schools that need improvement, rather than punishing them. (link)

This makes me worry that the type of change that Obama reiterated throughout his campaign will end up being something far different from a new form of governance. With a convincing electoral win as well as a Democratic majority in both houses Obama is presented with an opportunity to truly challenge the status quo of government.

It seems to me that he has the opportunity to affect the fundamental conceptions of what the federal government’s roles and duties are. He could redefine just what the role of the federal government is in things like education. He could either remove some aspects of federal involvement or even expand federal obligations and fully fund them. Instead, it seems that he will be focusing on what the perception of America is as well as what its culture consists of. I will not argue that America does not need a change in culture and mindset; I would love to see these things happen. After the last 8 years though there are many more pressing issues that deal with how and why the government functions. America needs a reassessment of its governmental structure so that it can survive the next century of change. A cultural shift is inherent within this, but it is not what should be given precedence.