2008-08-01 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular

Things To Come
Commentary by Stuart W. Mirsky

"Nothing is certain except death and taxes," but a few things come close. One is that, come November, either Democrat Barack Obama or Republican John McCain will emerge as the next president. When that happens we'll be turning the page on eight years of rancorous political partisanship. Whether matters could have gone differently for the current White House occupant must be left to historians at this point. George W. Bush certainly had a lot against him, including an embittered Democratic party and a sympathetic media eager to undermine him. But he also lacked some important political skills when he entered the White House, skills a president generally needs to succeed.

Awkward in front of reporters and cameras, Bush also seems to have lacked the ability to knock heads inside his increasingly contentious administration where leaks, backstabbing and political infighting became the order of the day. So what can we expect in January after the new president, whoever he is, is inaugurated?

If it's Obama, the current front runner according to most polls, we can bet on a bit of whooping and hollering as the media and their favorite political party rejoice at the long sought restoration of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to Democratic hands. As the new president comes in, there will be a rush to push out Republican appointees and replace them with Democratic loyalists (though Democrats condemned Republicans for doing the same thing in the Bush years). Along for the ride will come the unions and trial lawyers seeking to reverse many of the changes effected by Ronald Reagan and afterward, and never fully reversed under Bill Clinton. Obama, himself, will give us a rousing and uplifting inaugural speech, making history as the nation's first African-American president, while the media gushes and European leaders and pundits beam. No more Texas cowboys in the White House, just a polished, inspiring "third world" American to serve as the first president of the world.

A President Obama will set up numerous White House working groups to begin implementing the changes he's called for, including moving toward nationalization of America's health care system, drafting legislation to raise taxes, and withdrawing troops from Iraq. Will he also increase troop levels in Afghanistan as promised? It's not likely any president will want to begin his administration with disastrous defeats, so it's a good bet he'll go slowly on Iraq, despite his unequivocal promises, while showing a good deal more caution than his rhetoric now suggests in ratcheting up our Afghan presence, because more troops means more fighting in the short term and the left will go ballistic if Obama moves rapidly in that direction.

Will a President Obama meet immediately and unconditionally with Ahmadenijad as promised? Probably not, given his shrewd judgment, natural caution and the Iranian president's still bellicose statements, though perhaps he will find a way to move in that direction by his second year. It's highly likely, though, that a meeting with Raul Castro will happen more quickly. Where's the downside? Hugo Chavez, on the other hand, will likely have to wait a while because of the recent revelations of his deep involvement in efforts to overthrow the government of President Alvaro Uribe in neighboring Colombia.

It's also unlikely a President Obama will shut down the nation's anti-terrorist operations, given his new responsibilities, but Guantanamo's days as a holding pen for captured foreign fighters and terrorists will surely be numbered. The left will give President Obama a prolonged honeymoon as he takes up the cudgel of governance, if only because he's so clearly perceived as one of theirs, but also because to do otherwise would risk being tarred with the brush of racism. But he won't have an open-ended blank check from them. They'll desert him if he demonstrates too much attraction to the mainstream.

What about the economy? We're currently in a deep economic funk but an Obama win would likely change the country's immediate mood. If much of the current economic and market malaise reflects Wall Street's concerns over Obama's long-term impact on business, the uncertainty and sense of foreboding will evaporate once he's won. Look for a nice post-election day rally with a sense that the economy has finally touched bottom and is on its way back up.

Of course, Obama's policies are still likely to have the expected dampening effect on economic activity (higher taxes, a shift toward protectionism and greater government regulation) so the post-election boom will likely be short-lived, to be followed by a second leg down, reflecting the realization that the serious Europeanization of America has begun. Just as the European states struggled for years with below par economic growth, and only recently dug their way out, so will we now find ourselves in their shoes as Euro-think finally takes hold in Washington.

Well, what if McCain surprises us and pulls it off? We can be sure the mood of the Democratic Party and their friends in the media will be dark indeed. Look for almost immediate accusations of voter fraud, election rigging, "dirty tricks," etc. If it's a close call, we may well see a reprise of 2000's presidential selection by litigation. Charges of endemic American racism will also be rampant as the pundits and pollsters scramble to explain how a charismatic Democratic candidate could have lost in such an overwhelmingly Democratic year. McCain will be accused of negative campaigning and become the subject of harsh and offensive humor as the press seeks a scapegoat for still another Democratic presidential loss.

A McCain administration would be characterized by a more eclectic selection of staffers and cabinet level officials, chosen from both sides of the political spectrum, because McCain prides himself on outreach. But a President McCain's honeymoon with the media, if it didn't end the day Obama clinched the Democratic nomination this past June, will certainly be done for by the time he's sworn in. There will be hatchet jobs on his age and temperament, snide barbs aimed at wife Cindy and an emphasis on his penchant for misspeaking (shades of George W.).

Since McCain will continue to try to be all things to everyone, he'll do his best to ignore the insults while bending over backwards to win back the fickle media. But the press and our foreign friends are unlikely to forgive him. Meanwhile he'll certainly push to exit a stabilized Iraq and to win in Afghanistan. He'll also jawbone for offshore oil drilling and probably come round to supporting drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), but not too hard because it might alienate the press corps whose affections he craves. Since it's unlikely he'll have the kind of coat- tails that can drag in a Republican Congressional majority, he'll have an uphill fight with Congress for at least the first two years of his term as he spends his days locked in combat with a venomous Democratic majority intent on ensuring he doesn't eke out a second term.

For Americans this may actually be beneficial, because a McCain presidency is likely to ensure the sort of political gridlock that keeps Congress from doing too much harm thanks to the presidential veto. But McCain would be so eager to make his mark that he'd probably bend over backwards to find common ground with a Congress intent on hamstringing his presidency.

We could well get tax increases in that case, because he's not strong on economics, by his own admission, and can be swayed (as Bush has sometimes been). He'd also likely hand us more government growth than his party affiliation might lead us to expect.

On the other hand, so did Bush, who repeatedly compromised with a Congress bent on taking him to the cleaners.

McCain would surely try to hold the line on government spending, though, because he's been strong on that for years. And he'd push for immigration reform, while appointing conservative justices to the Supreme Court (though not too conservative, given his desire for "common ground"). His press conferences would also be likely to prove embarrassing, given his corny jokes and hair-trigger temper, even as "Old Europe" continued to fuss and fret over America's obstinacy in picking her presidents without first clearing it with them. rockirreg@aol.com

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