National Opinions

Maria Elena Salinas: Obama ready for promotion

It was not the first time I had interviewed Barack Obama, but it was the first time I had interviewed him as president-elect. We pondered the title for a moment before starting the questioning.

"'President-elect,' it has a nice ring to it," I said. "It's kind of wordy," said press chief Robert Gibbs, standing behind me.

"It sounds better than 'senator,"' said Obama.

And so the former senator and I sat down and talked about the monumental task before him as he inherits a country in crisis and a world in turmoil. "Did you ever stop to think for a moment, 'What did I get myself into?' "

He laughed. "Now is when you want to be president," he responded. "If you're someone like me, that is interested in public policy, and you look at American history, the times where you can bring about the most change and help the most people is actually moments of crisis."

Obama believes the current economic situation and the state of our energy, health care and education systems create a sense of urgency that puts pressure on Congress to act in a fast and decisive manner: "People's attention is on our government right now, and that means a president can rally the American people in ways that in normal times, you can't do."

These definitely are not normal times, and Barack Obama realizes he will have to get to work fast after all the pomp and circumstance is behind him.

He made it very clear during our interview that his priority will be preparing a strategy to stimulate the economy: open up lines of credit for consumers and invest in programs that will create jobs while modernizing our energy system.

He emphasized his point when I asked where immigration would be on his list of priorities. "For Latinos and non-Latinos alike, the single biggest priority is getting our economy back on its feet. But I don't back off my commitment that starting this year, we are going to see movement on immigration reform."

For that, he said, he would reach out to both sides of the aisle, and in particular his former rival John McCain, whose position on the issue is not much different from Obama's.

No doubt Barack Obama will begin his presidency with a heavy load.

But when he enters the White House on that first day of work, after making history by breaking racial barriers and turning out to be the first African-American to become the leader of the free world, it won't necessarily be the economic crisis or the international mayhem that will be on his mind.

"Well, I'm probably going to be entering with my wife and two kids, which means that the girls are going to be running around and I'm going to have to tell them not to knock anything down," he said.

"So, you see things in terms of family when you think of becoming the 44th president of the United States?" I asked.

"I do, because I think the reason we do these things when we're young, we do them for ourselves; as you get older, that becomes less important and the reason you do things is for your children," he replied.

Good luck, President Obama. It has a nice ring to it.

Reach Maria Elena Salinas at www.mariaesalinas.com.

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