The Obama Future
Gone are the days when president-elects waited until Inauguration Day to start the presidential power transfer. Given the foreign situation and financial crisis, Barack Obama is taking action immediately—he has decided on Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff, and held a press conference today emphasizing his economic plan. (He also delivered his first presidential apology—to Nancy Reagan for alleging that she held séances in the White House, when instead she merely consulted astrologers, which is completely different but equally stupid). During his press conference, Obama stressed that he does not “underestimate the enormity of the task that lies ahead.”
I think he might. The next four years would present incredible difficulties for any president. The subprime mortgage crisis has turned into a worldwide credit crunch, and the U.S. economy is almost certainly in recession. Foreign enemies are on the move—Vladimir Putin seems to be trying to revive the old Soviet hegemony (because that worked so well last time), and Islamic terrorism still remains a threat. And Communist China is starting to flex its economic and military muscles.
Unfortunately, Obama is ill-suited to deal with any external threat. He is viewed, fairly or not, as callow and inexperienced. The day after Obama was elected, Putin threatened to place short-range missiles near Poland, which seems an obvious test of Obama’s will. Given Obama’s inexperience, he will have to respond aggressively. But given the state of the American military (overstretched), he will have a hard time doing so.
Further, Obama is under a great deal of pressure not to fail in the task of protecting the American people from Islamic terrorism. George W. Bush, for all his shortcomings, did not allow any attacks on American soil after 9/11. That’s the standard Obama has to live up to—and it may be an impossible one. It would be relatively simple (I assume) to hire a small airplane to crash into a nuclear power plant, or a sporting event, or a school, or to coordinate a nationwide string of school shootings, or something equally horrible.
So, foreign enemies will aggressively seek to test Obama—but Obama can’t let them do the least bit of damage to America, or risk being unfavorably compared to George Bush. Not an ideal position for the President-elect.
The financial situation may well present a tougher challenge for the President-elect. The health of the U.S. financial system depends, in large part, on the health of the stock market. The stock market depends on the confidence of big business. Democrat majorities make big business unconfident.
It will be hard for Obama to reassure corporations that he won’t hurt them while simultaneously playing to his liberal base. That is why the stock market plunged following Obama’s election.
Making Obama’s situation worse, he has promised to let Bush’s tax cuts expire. Everyone agrees: the worst thing to do during a recession is to raise taxes. Tax hikes remove money from the economy, and cause people to save instead of spend. Had Obama realized that the bottom would drop out of the world economy, it is doubtful that he would have made his tax hikes promise. Unfortunately for him, however, he did, and now has to face the consequences.
Had John McCain been elected president, his position would have been very difficult. Obama’s will be worse. This is a mixed blessing for Republicans—on the one hand, a poor Obama presidency would make winning in 2010 and 2012 much easier. On the other, it wouldn’t do much for the United States of America. Most Republicans wouldn’t want a massive worldwide recession as a convincing demonstration of liberalism’s failures—but they could get one.