CHESTER: When John McCain or Barack Obama starts his new job as the 44th
President of the United States at noon on January 20, 2009, he will face a
“to do” list so daunting and teeth-gnashingly intense, he may
eventually wonder why the office seemed such an attractive career move in the
Indeed, historians, political scientists, and some who have served in
the White House agree that a student of the American presidency would have to
recall the terms of Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt to find an incoming
commander-in-chief with more looming crises.
“No president in recent memory has had the kind of challenges that
with Mr. Obama or Mr. McCain will be facing, outside of (Franklin Delano
Roosevelt) who had the greatest crisis of all,” said Tom Whalen, a
professor of politics at Boston University.
Surely, when McCain or Obama launched his campaign neither anticipated
that a glut of sweetheart mortgage deals sold to underfinanced investors at
the fringes of the American housing market would have set in motion what has
now become a global financial meltdown.
The new president will oversee the government's investment of more than
$700 billion in several banks and insurance firms critical to the health of
the credit markets and, more broadly, the U.S. economy. As importantly,
McCain or Obama will have to project leadership that restores the confidence
of American investors in the banking system. Unless the new president moves
quickly to restore confidence, consumer spending will continue to slow, which
will lead to a drop in manufacturing and exports, and which, in turn, will
lead to further layoffs in the jobs market.
“Almost certainly the first issue the next president is going to
have to focus on will be the economy, and probably the state of the financial
markets, which will probably not be able to to be back to normal by then. So
that's got to be the first issue to address,” said Tony Blankley, a
former aide to Republican House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Also on the president's desk will be decisions about how to defeat a
resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan and to how to prevent the spread of their
influence in the region. McCain or Obama must also determine how large the
American military footprint should be in Iraq, and whether the Baghdad
government is stable enough to permit a more substantial withdrawal of U.S.
The new president will almost certainly recall that large-scale attacks
were launched in New York in September 2001, Madrid in March 2004, and London
in July 2005 – all undertaken around the time of a change in government.
McCain or Obama, then, may be faced with the question of how to respond to a
new round of attacks.
Further, McCain or Obama will face an opaque North Korea with nuclear
aspirations, a Pakistan without a firm grip on its western frontier, a Middle
East peace process that has been all but stagnant for decades, a populist heir
to Castro in Venezuela, a Russian government intent on flexing its muscle
beyond its borders, and a China which seems ready to upgrade its status as an
economic superpower and to ascend to the rank of full-fledged superpower
On the domestic side, the new president faces a record foreign debt and
a record budget deficit. An unpopular tax increase, by whatever name, is more
than likely. And last, he must chose whether to reduce America's dependence
on foreign oil by drilling offshore in domestic waters – to the cheers of the
oil companies and to the boos of environmentalists.
As all presidential candidates do, both McCain and Obama made a number
of campaign promises. In the present political and economic environment of
the United States, it seems improbable that the new president will be able to
make good on more than a few of those promises.
“We have a $12 trillion national debt and an economic crisis
greater than the Great Depression. The one mutually understood fact that
nobody wants to talk about is that all the campaign promises are worth
absolutely nothing in this particular crisis environment. They have to start
all over again,” said Lanny Davis, a confidante and former attorney for
President Bill Clinton.
Public opinion polls in the United States are unanimous that the
Democrats will retain control of both the House of Representative and the
Senate. The only question subject to speculation is whether the Democrats
will win 60 seats, enough to ensure their votes cannot be overridden by
Obama, of course, will sleep soundly if the Democrats strengthen their
grasp in Congress. John McCain, however, will have to be prepared to manage
his “to do” list in cooperation with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and
Senate leader Harry Reid and other Democrats.
“You can't be boxed in by your political ideology. If you are,
given how fluid the economic, political, and foreign the situation is, you
will end up a failure. You will have to be flexible,” said Tom Whelan,
the Boston University professor said.
The task before McCain or Obama would challenge any leader. Without a
doubt, the standing of America in the world rests squarely on how well Obama
or McCain navigates, or perhaps runs aground, the cluster of daunting
challenges which a backroom wag might describe as a political poison