President Barack Obama and Congress closed out their first extended stretch of work last week, an intense period in which the new president boldly remade Bush-era policies while offering a distinct vision of what his own presidency will be.
In areas of style, substance and philosophy, Obama is striking a path entirely unlike that of his predecessor and, indeed, from anything else that has gone before. In many ways, the United States is already a very different place than it was just a few months ago.
While, on the heels of his disastrous effort to reshape the nations health system, former President Bill Clinton committed himself to tinkering on the edges of the economy with boutique programs designed to advance specific causes, Obama is interested in nothing less than reshaping huge swaths of the economic system.
While former President George W. Bush gave the appearance in the final days of his administration of being reluctantly dragged into intervening in the economy, Obama has made no apologies, and he even felt compelled to reassure everyone that he favors capitalism.
The list of actions he has taken many sought for years by Democrats and opposed for the similar lengths of time by Republicans is startling.
Obama helped move through Congress a nearly $787 billion stimulus bill that included huge outlays for road building and alternative energy projects, some of which will drive on the new asphalt.
He revised U.S. interrogation policies and began closing the Guantánamo Bay prison. He changed U.S. policy on abortion, allowing funding of family planning centers overseas that provide abortion services while freeing up federal money for embryonic stem-cell research.
Obama signed an expansion of the State Childrens Health Insurance Program and legislation extending the deadline for filing equal pay lawsuits.
He further centralized power in the White House with new offices on climate change and urban affairs.
The president, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton leading the way, has moved to revive the Middle East peace process, repair frayed relations with Russia and Europe, and engage China.
He fired the CEO of General Motors and forced Chrysler to merge with Italian automaker Fiat or face ruin.
He has introduced various strategies to revive the financial sector, including a public-private plan to scoop up banks toxic assets.
Obama has established a mantra that he and his aides intend to keep repeating for the foreseeable future: health care, energy and the environment and education. With his budget, Obama signaled that he will revamp U.S. policy in these areas even while trying to rescue the struggling economy. Deficits created to fund changes are characterized by aides as investments that will pay off with cost savings down the line.
These issues will inform much of what he does on the domestic front. When the president, for example, announced that Chrysler was to merge with Fiat, he noted that Fiat has the technology needed to help Chrysler build cleaner-burning engines.