Presidents-Elect in a Pickle
Thursday, January 8, 2009
With just a few days to go before Inauguration Day, President-Elect Barack Obama must be having second thoughts about whether he really wants to be president given the monumental problems the world is facing. Who, in their wildest nightmares, could have predicted the economic meltdown the nation, and perhaps the entire globe, is experiencing? Just think! Our national debt is more than 10 trillion dollars and growing by hundreds of thousands of dollars every minute. It is now more than 65 percent of our nation's gross national product which is the value of this country's final output of goods in services in one year.
Then there's the new explosion in Gaza between Israel and Hamas and Obama's complete silence on that situation. In Iraq, deadly suicide bombings continue . There's fresh bombardment by Turkish and Iranian artillery of the Kurds in Northern Iraq. And the U.S. is preparing for a build up of troops in Afghanistan with an expected multi-billion dollar price tag. Can you just imagine what the former junior senator from Illinois must be thinking as he approaches his first day in the Oval Office and becomes the leader of the free world?
But wait! He's not the first, and probably won't be the last, president-in-waiting to experience deterioration and destabilization as Inauguration Day approaches. One of Obama's heroes is Abraham Lincoln who, according to one biographer , had four terrible months between his November election and his March inauguration, perhaps "the most dangerous transition period in history." The country was self-destructing as Southern states threatened to leave the nation, reacting to the election of a new president who strongly opposed the extension of slavery. Lincoln was silent, but held his ground as he waited until his predecessor had left office.
Then there was the first Great Depression. In the period between Franklin Delano Roosevelt's election in 1932 and his assumption of the presidency in March, he and President Herbert Hoover were at loggerheads while the country struggled. Before he left office, Hoover raised taxes and more than half the nation suffered from a severe drought. Meanwhile, Roosevelt was working on government programs to supervise the economy, to seek broad executive powers to wage war against the economic emergency, and to redistribute the population. It was a frenetic period looking for a cure for the nation whose economic outlook was at its bleakest. But FDR was powerless to act until Inauguration Day on March 4, 1933. It was this dangerous delay that resulted in a constitutional amendment moving presidential inaugurations from March to January.
Harry Truman and George W. Bush ran into problems shortly after taking their oaths. A few days after Truman was sworn into office, a chilling report arrived on his desk that said: "Within four months, we shall in all probability have completed the most terrible weapon ever known in human history..." The decision to use the atomic bomb was Truman's and his alone. Today, more than 60 years later, the debate still rages whether the bomb which started the atomic age, ended the war and saved lives or whether Japan had already been defeated and was on the verge of surrender.
Our current president, George W. Bush, faced his serious challenge less than a year after his election. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, clearly re-shaped his presidency or at least the presidency that he outlined in his first campaign. Remember humility in foreign policy and compassionate conservatism? All that disappeared along with his resistance to nation building. His belligerent "you're either with us or against us in the fight against terror" statement came just a few weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and defined his tenure thereafter.
I think it's a good bet that Obama will go through with his plans to be president, despite the rough waters ahead. He'll need his youth, his good health, and his athletic agility to steer a safe course for his nation and the world, and apparently the voters counted on that when they went to the polls in November.
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