In three short weeks America will go to the polls, and if the current polls are in the least bit accurate, elect Barack Obama to the presidency. This will end the presidential ambitions of John McCain and I suspect Hillary Clinton. It will also mark the high point of the Democratic Party for the next 20 years, and mark the end of the current generation of Republican Party with its roots in the Reagan Revolution and Newt Gingrich’s Contract for America.
Psychologically his ascendancy to the highest office in the land will inspire faith in the system for the disenfranchised – for a while. However people’s expectations for his presidency are completely out of whack with the reality of the office he will assume come January 2009, and if the Republicans need a strategy to survive as a party, they could do worse by encouraging them once the election is over.
Obama cannot lift an entire segment of the population out of poverty. There will be no increased handouts under an Obama administration, no slavery reparations that will turn everyone in the inner-city into millionaires overnight. The tax credits he proposes – the ones that pay the poorest back more than they pay in taxes won’t be noticeable. A few hundred dollars extra in their pockets will not make them feel rich, even if the tax package becomes reality after it goes through the meat-grinder of the budget process.
Barack Obama will face a deficit of half a trillion dollars (some forecast a deficit in 2009 of $700 billion) and a total debt of $9.67 trillion with declining tax revenues, thanks to a recession that economist Nouriel Roubini predicts will be the worst in 40 years. There cannot be an explosion of social programs that some on the Left would like without the money to pay for it. Even nationalized health care, which is possibly the Democrat’s most popular platform plank (I even support it to some degree) isn’t possible under such economic conditions. While the Republican party will be in disarray, opposition to spending will most likely come from his own party: the so-called “blue dog Democrats” who opposed the recent Wall Street bailout bills.
What do his supporters expect? Since many of the disenfranchised don’t know about budget constraints or separation of powers they will either become impatient with Obama or blame a conspiracy – most likely the latter.
What can Obama do the economy? The American economy is roughly $15 trillion. As Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson are finding out, it’s not easy to control such a large economy. The US Federal Budget for 2009 submitted by President Bush weighed in at $3.1 trillion. Even if as expected Obama boosts spending significantly over the next four years it is unlikely that he can either “save the economy” (as his supporters believe) or “wreck it” as his detractors expect. Managing such a large economy using federal spending is like controlling a car using only one wheel; while it is possible for a single tire to make the economy speed up or slow down a little it can’t turn the car around on its own.
Where Obama will have the greatest impact will be on taxes, which can be “reformed” or flat-out overturned by a Republican congress or presidency in the future. I believe that it’s likely such manipulation by Obama will make any recession worse; however to blame a Depression or recession on him alone is giving the man and the position power that they lack. The forces that are at play in the economy – bad loans and deflating asset values – are complex economic forces that took years to develop and will take just as long to dissipate. But American capitalism has weathered similar crises in the past and will no doubt survive them in the future.
Another area of impact will be his administration’s effect on the judiciary. By appointing judges to the lower courts and having his party in the majority to rubber stamp them, an Obama presidency can leave its mark on the federal judiciary that will outlast its potential eight years in office. Given the likelihood that the Republicans will eventually regroup to resist the more extremist appointments to the lower courts after the 2010 election at the earliest (more likely 2012), expect the next Congress to fill most judicial vacancies quickly. I would expect this to be one of the Obama administration’s highest priority early in his first term.
What about the Supreme Court? Is the 2nd Amendment about to be repealed and abortion made legal for all ages and in all forms? The most conservative justices on the bench also happen to be some of the youngest: Clarence Thomas (60), Samuel Alito (58), and John Roberts (53). Only Antonin Scalia and moderate Anthony Kennedy are showing any kind of wear at 72. Any Supreme Court appointment by Obama will most likely replace one of the aging liberals on the bench. If I were a gambling man I would bet that John Paul Stevens (88) can’t wait for Obama to takeover so that he can retire – possibly as early as Spring 2009. In the end I would expect no changes to the direction of the court unless Obama pulls an FDR and tries to pack it – and the medication I’m on to control my paranoia makes that hard for me to believe.
For a contrasting view visit Roger Kimball, “Is Obama a “transformational figure”? You don’t know the half of it.”