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Learning from those before him

Except perhaps for Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama arrives at the White House having the fewest obligations to the established political order in modern times. But administrations never really start from scratch, no matter how stark the change in policies from their predecessors. This month, at Obama's urging and President Bush's invitation, the former presidents gathered for the ultimate power lunch to trade stories and advice. We've broadened that gathering to list some of the ideas, traits and personnel from previous administrations that may guide President Obama. BILL MARSH, New York Times

32 Obama quoted Franklin Roosevelt's celebrated words from his first inaugural — "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" — in the campaign and has since seemed to borrow freely from the Roosevelt playbook. Following Roosevelt, Obama has promised to act quickly and bolster a faltering economy with an array of measures, including a large public works program, and stricter regulations on Wall Street.

40 During the campaign, Obama credited Ronald Reagan with changing "the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it." Obama's campaign consciously echoed themes of hope and optimism projected by Reagan.

41 Obama, on changing U.S. foreign policy, during the campaign: "This is not an argument between Democrats and Republicans. It's an argument between ideology and foreign policy realism. I have enormous sympathy for the foreign policy of George H.W. Bush." Brent Scowcroft, Bush's national security adviser, is now an Obama adviser.

43 Like George W. Bush, Obama has surrounded himself with a tightly disciplined organization that stays implacably on message. After repeatedly attacking Bush's foreign policy during the campaign, President-elect Obama promptly announced he would be keeping on Bush's defense secretary, Robert M. Gates.

42 Like Obama, Bill Clinton, who campaigned during a recession and proposed an economic stimulus, took office with congressional majorities. But Senate Republicans, led by Bob Dole, repeatedly used the filibuster and the bill was gutted. Can Obama avoid this fate?

39 Jimmy Carter is now recognized as an early innovator on energy and environmental policy, where Obama hopes to make big strides. Like Obama, Carter was an outsider who was propelled to the nomination after a victory in the Iowa caucuses. The two feel strongly about political ethics and the corrupting influence of money.

16 Obama's March 2008 speech on race has been likened to the Cooper Union speech that catapulted Abraham Lincoln to the forefront of the 1860 campaign. At his victory rally in Chicago, Obama quoted from the conciliatory words Lincoln delivered at his first inaugural: "We are not enemies, but friends — though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection."

35 Yes, John F. Kennedy's daughter, Caroline, endorsed Obama. But there are also the Harvard ties: McGeorge Bundy and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. worked for JFK; Obama tapped Lawrence H. Summers, the ex-Harvard president.

33 Obama admires Harry S. Truman's boldness in establishing a postwar order. Under Truman, NATO was formed and the Marshall Plan created. Obama has also emphasized multilateralism and diplomacy.

Learning from those before him 01/17/09 [Last modified: Sunday, January 18, 2009 12:12pm]
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