The next supreme leader of the United States should take the oath of office with his sleeves rolled up. The few seconds required for the Chief Justice of the United States to swear him in are about all he will have to enjoy before beginning to wonder why in heaven’s name he thought running for this office was a good idea.
When the British officially left these shores in 1781, their bands played "The World Turned Upside Down," a fitting send off that 229 years later seems apropos as a theme for the situation, both foreign and domestic, the last president has bequeathed him. The new chief executive just might have done better in bankruptcy court. So far, at least, there has been no foreclosure notice tacked on the White House door.
Not only will the new American president inherit an economic situation at home and abroad maybe second only to the one that managed to ruin the administration of Herbert Hoover in 1929 and leave the country reeling for a decade, intelligence experts already have warned him that he will have little or no breathing room in fending off global terrorist activities produced by continued instability in the Middle East or in relieving the pressures of costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Welcome to the Oval Office.
Mike McConnell, director of national intelligence, made that clear a few days ago in Nashville. That matches Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden’s prediction that the next president (he specifically mentioned Obama) will be tested quickly by unfriendly forces. The Delaware senator, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, got himself into trouble with the Obama campaign for those remarks. But his assessment could just as easily apply to John McCain, despite the war hero’s military background.
McConnell has briefed both candidates on what they can expect after next January’s inauguration whichever one has the dubious honor of winning. This includes increasing threats of a radiological or biological attack on America by terrorist groups who analysts see growing for at least the next 20 years. The danger increases, he said, as new technology places more and more destructive weapons in terrorists’ hands.
"… The new president elect’s excitement is going to be dampened somewhat when he begins to focus on the realities of the myriad changes and challenges," McConnell said. "One of our greatest concerns continues to be that a terrorist group … might acquire and employ biological agents or less likely, a radiological device, to create casualties greater than Sept, 11, (2001)"
McConnell also warned that typically the first months of a new presidency are the most vulnerable. He said major terrorist attacks occurred during the first year of both the presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and that there "is always surprise" during this period.
In the midst of all this, of course, the next president must deal with a huge number of domestic issues from health care to education to energy. The continuing decline of America’s auto industry will need quick attention. That couldn’t come at a worse time given the crisis in banking. Competition from China and India and even Russia can be expected to grow rapidly.
By the time he leaves the Capitol and heads for his home on Pennsylvania Avenue, the newly inaugurated president is likely to be thinking that first prize is one term in the White House and second prize is two terms. He already will have spent almost three months in a breakneck attempt to be ready for Day One with Cabinet appointments that hopefully can be confirmed rapidly by the Senate and to meet demands by the media and just plain Americans that he solve the nation’s problems in the first 100 days. After all for two years both men have been promising "change," garnished by the longest, most often repeated list of pledges in the history of American politics.
Time to put up.
(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)aol.com.)