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Full emotional disclosure: Every time I think about what my country did on Nov. 4, my heart soars and my throat catches. I love that Americans elected an African-American president. I love that we elected someone who doesn’t come from a rich or politically powerful family, someone who built his own career from scratch and chose the noble work of community organizing. I love his intellect, his sense of humor, his graciousness. I love his family, with or without dog.

Jan. 20 can’t get here soon enough.

OK. That said, let’s have a sober discussion about what the election of Barack Obama may mean for our daily lives, and especially for people living on the financial edge. What can President Obama do for workers and their families struggling to get by in San Diego?

We all know he is inheriting a colossal mess — two mishandled wars and a free-market-run-amuck economic disaster — and that cleaning it up will take a long time and a lot of cooperation from others. Pundits already are declaring all campaign promises dead on arrival thanks to the economic drain of the financial markets’ mega-bailouts.

But what we can and can’t afford is largely a matter of priorities. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has argued we need a huge government spending program ASAP — it just has to be spent in the right places. Some of the priorities that got Obama elected were to stop spending $11,000,000,000 a month in Iraq (how much is that per hour?) and to roll back tax giveaways to the super-wealthy and subsidies for profiteering corporations.

The president-elect has made clear he prefers to spend money to create jobs, help working people survive this crisis and build foundations for long-term financial security. This weekend, Obama said he will hit the ground running with an economic stimulus plan that will create or save 2.5 million jobs while cutting taxes for working families. He is moving quickly to form his cabinet and network of alliances to set the political stage for meaningful action on these fronts:

  • A new public works program that creates good jobs while rebuilding our sagging infrastructure.
  • A green economy that develops alternative fuel sources, bringing whole new industries full of middle-class jobs.
  • Healthcare reform that comes close to universal coverage and imposes long-needed controls on insurance and pharmaceutical companies.

Each of these initiatives, if done right, has broad potential to improve life and economic stability in our local region as well as across the country.

In other ways, the Obama Administration is likely to be a friend to workers. The President-elect has strongly endorsed the sensible notion that workers should be able to form a union whenever a majority in a workplace wants one. With his support, the Employee Free Choice Act has a fighting chance. Its passage would go far toward increasing the numbers of middle-class jobs with good benefits throughout our society.

He also has pledged to give companies incentives to create jobs within the United States, and remove financial rewards for those that ship jobs overseas.

These and other Obama policy goals are driven by a philosophy that puts the needs of working people first in efforts to strengthen the economy. After years of policies that concentrated our nation’s prosperity at the top, the new administration’s plans will bring real change for many workers, both to reduce the suffering from the immediate economic crisis and to build long-term security for many who have never known it.

— SUSAN DUERKSEN

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