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December 01, 2008

Introduction: An Agenda for the New President

by Kathi Pugh

When we first tossed around the idea of this issue last fall, we looked ahead to a time of opportunity, a time of hope when a new president could turn attention to much-needed new priorities for the nation.

Never did we imagine, even six months ago, the multitude of problems that would need immediate action by the new president. Sure, some concerns were obvious, such as bringing home the troops, reinstating credibility to the Justice Department, and restoring the rule of law at home and overseas. Some issues, such as immigration, separation of church and state, and education, will continue to be hot topics of debate year after year, while others such as health care, international human rights, and separation of powers may ebb and flow with the actions of our political leaders.

But the meltdown of the economy has put into dramatic relief the fiscal status of the nation. What a difference eight years make! Our nation is quite unlike the one George Bush took over in 2001. The average annual household income has fallen by more than $1,100, and more than 7.7 million people are unemployed. Now, 5 million more Americans live in poverty and 47 million more do not have health insurance. The national debt has almost doubled. In 2001, budget estimates were for a $710 billion surplus in 2009, but are now estimated at a $407 billion deficit. The Iraq War alone has cost the United States more than $646 billion, while overall projections are up to $3 trillion if one includes services to those veterans but excludes the immeasurable cost of human life and broken minds, bodies, and families.

The last time the United States faced an economic crisis of this magnitude was when Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office. While much has been made of the similarities in the state of the country, the backgrounds of the men themselves couldn’t be more different. FDR was known for trying something, surrounding himself with smart people, and loving a good fight––all traits that will serve President Barack Obama well. However, Congress may want to remember the words of FDR: “In our seeking for economic and political progress, we all go up–– or else we all go down” and “it is an unfortunate human failing that a full pocketbook often groans more loudly than an empty stomach.”

We have tried to identify the critical issues of the day and the experienced experts in their fields who can offer insightful advice. We are not so presumptuous as to think we are providing critical guidance to President Obama, but we do hope to offer “food for thought” to our readers.

Kathi Pugh

Kathi Pugh is pro bono counsel for Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco, California, and co-chair of theHuman Rights editorial board .