IN HIS first week in office, President Barack Obama answered those cynics who think elections don't change anything. With a flourish of his pen, he has rolled back various Bush administration policies that were heavy on ideology and short on good sense.
The pace of change has been so fast that it's almost hard to keep up - executive orders on closing Guantanamo Bay, ending torture, imposing new restrictions on lobbying, and requiring more openness in government.
To that praiseworthy list we can add two further examples contributing to an early spring of change. First, Mr. Obama reversed the ban on giving federal money to international groups that provide family-planning services if they also provide abortions or abortion information.
This supposedly high-minded ban exported America's internal abortion debate overseas and made poor women in need of family planning assistance pay the price of reduced options. President Ronald Reagan instituted the ban in 1984, President Bill Clinton rescinded it in 1993 and President George W. Bush reinstituted it in 2001.
In an overpopulated world of declining resources, the policy was a short-sighted folly, one that made the perfect goal of eliminating abortion the enemy of the common good of limiting unwanted pregnancies that might lead to women seeking abortion.
Next, Mr. Obama struck a double blow for enlightened policy. He directed the Environmental Protection Agency to re-examine whether California should be allowed to have an exemption so that it could impose stricter automobile emissions standards than required by the federal government, a moved signed on to by 13 other states. Mr. Obama also directed his administration to start moving on new fuel-efficiency guidelines in time for 2011 model cars.
The refusal of the EPA in 2007 to grant California the exemption under the Clean Air Act confounded every conservative notion of states rights and also wilfully ignored scientific opinion.
But clearly it was meant as a sop to the auto industry, as was the administration's foot-dragging on fuel-efficiency standards. Both actions confirmed the worst instincts of a failing auto industry and both new executive orders are a much-needed corrective, although we believe the goal ought to be a uniform national set of emissions and fuel-economy standards.
"For the sake of our security, our economy, and our planet, we must have the courage and commitment to change," Mr. Obama said. No one can doubt that change hasn't arrived fast.