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Barack Obama Now Owes Many Special Interest Groups

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Al Gore wants quick action on climate change. Sen. Edward Kennedy says health care reform can’t wait. Labor unions want a bill making it easier to organize.

The American Civil Liberties Union is calling for the immediate closure of the military’s prison for foreign terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org urges a steady troop withdrawal from Iraq. The National Governors Association is pleading for billions in aid to states, pronto.

And, by the way, Mr. President-elect, the American Lung Association would like you to make all federal work sites smoke-free.

New administrations always face a cacophony of competing demands, but few presidents have been confronted with the sort of urgent and varied pleas being made to Barack Obama, amid two wars and the worst economic crisis in generations, says Anthony Badger, a University of Cambridge historian of American politics.

After eight years of a Republican president whose central domestic policy was tax cuts, Americans who want a more activist government are aching to see their causes addressed. During the campaign, Obama told many of them just what they wanted to hear. The question now is which pledges Obama tackles first, which ones have to wait and which ones will survive contact with Congress and special interest groups in Washington.

“He’s under extraordinary pressure to be all things to all people, and he’s going to find that very difficult to manage during his first 100 days,” says New York University political science professor Paul Light, who specializes in the workings of the federal government. “There are a lot of people coming to him with checklists of issues they care about, but Congress is not capable of handling a mass rush of legislation.”

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