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Smiles returning to the faces 

Smiles returning to the faces

Hope is the best gift, and this Christmas is the first in years that Americans have received it. There's hope that the new president will pursue just and effective means of dealing with an economic collapse that the Bush administration couldn't handle, and even helped to bring about through its misguided policies.

A public works program would provide jobs and make much-needed repairs to the infrastructure. President-elect Barack Obama is for that, just as he is for re-regulation of financial institutions that were allowed to run wild under Bush. At bottom, the economist Robert Kuttner says, every national economic failure involves “speculation, deception, and failed regulation.” Obama sees this. The Bushers couldn't, or wouldn't. Those unregulated deceivers were Bush's political base.

There's hope that Obama will reverse tax policy that gives special privileges to the already privileged, and that he will instead cut taxes only for those who need cuts. He's said that he will do so, and he's not yet given reason to doubt him. He's also said that he will stop the violation of American park lands by developers, preserving precious and finite natural resources for future generations.

There's hope that Commander-in-Chief Obama will end a war that should never have been, that kills American soldiers and far more Iraqi civilians to no good purpose, that has made America less safe and more hated than when the war was begun on the basis of false reports.

What could inspire greater hope than Obama's announcement that the U.S.A., once the champion of humanitarian causes, will again renounce the use of torture, reversing the policies of the Bush Administration? It still astonishes: An American president publicly condoning torture — that is how low the country had sunk in the last eight years, how far it had strayed from its principles.

There's hope in Obama's frank admission that America pays more than other countries for health care and receives less of it. His ideas on correcting the problem don't go far enough — a single-payer national health system is needed, he'll eventually find — but they're better than what the Bush administration proposed, and Obama's opponent in the presidential election. Their proposal was that poor people not get sick.

There's hope, a smidgen at least, that a new spirit of cooperation will settle on Washington, that discourse between lawmakers and parties will be more civil and more productive. The Republicans' savage attacks on Bill Clinton and their questionable victory over another Democratic presidential candidate left a bitter aftertaste in the capital. Now Clinton is gone, and Bush and Cheney soon will be, and Obama seems the least vindictive of men. That's hopeful.

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