Obama Still an Enigma Days Before Inauguration

It seems as if a lifetime has passed since the 2008 presidential election. John McCain's Keystone Cops campaign is a hazy memory. The daily media barrage aimed at Sarah Palin has vanished. And the notion that Republicans might retain the White House during the greatest financial meltdown in seventy years now seems like a distant pipe dream. Meanwhile, in the interim between the election and the start of the new year, the country has learned a bit more about its president-elect.

He hasn't downloaded voluminous policy plans or divulged his deepest thoughts, but his actions -- and decisions not to act -- during the transition period suggest that he may not be exactly what either his supporters hoped or his opponents feared. The contours of his agenda are still not crystal clear, but some of the blanks have been filled in over the last two months.

For starters, the fear of some on the Right -- and the hope of those on the Left -- that President-elect Obama was an ultra-dove, a sort of Manchurian candidate, has been largely discredited. His choice of a national security team filled with center-right figures and even a Bush administration defense secretary has shaken the Left. His plans for a gradual draw down of U.S. troops in Iraq and a prompt buildup in Afghanistan are virtually indistinguishable from McCain's. So long as terrorists are on the rampage in Mumbai and Hamas incites a new round of Middle East violence, one suspects the dawning of a new age of world peace and togetherness will be a long time in coming. And it doesn't appear that Iran's President Ahmadinejad or Cuba's Raul Castro will be coming for tea at the White House anytime soon.

We have also learned that the media's love affair with the president-elect is largely unrequited. He dumped the transition team report regarding his staff's contacts with Blago the afternoon before a holiday, gave pabulum or non-answers at press conferences, and ditched the press pool to take his kids to an amusement park. The imbalance in his press relationship -- devotion on one side and evasion, verging on testiness, on the other -- may suggest rockier times lay ahead.

President-elect Obama also demonstrated a reticence to weigh in on big and contentious issues when the end game was far from certain. He stayed away from the Georgia Senate run-off race, refused comment on the Gaza incursion, was mostly mum on the car bailout battle, and largely deferred comment on the unfilled Senate seats scattered about the country. What remains to be seen is whether this will be his presidential modus operandi -- sort of a Zen-like indifference to storms raging about him -- or whether he is just waiting to spring into action on January 20.