When Barack Obama places his hand on Abraham Lincoln’s Bible and takes the oath of office, he will assume administration of a nation that Republicans and Democrats alike believe to be in deep crisis. Fully nine in 10 Americans tell pollsters that America is "on the wrong track."
Opinion makers openly lament the country’s declining fortunes and warn of worse to come. Historian Paul Kennedy, who famously predicted America’s "imperial overreach" 20 years ago in "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers," reiterated his argument in the Wall Street Journal on Jan. 14.
"When the dust settles on this alarming and perhaps protracted global economic crisis," Kennedy writes, "we should not expect national shares of world production to be the same as in, say, 2005. Uncle Sam may have to come down a peg or two."
Is that right? Or does Barack Obama’s $750 billion plan to stimulate the U.S. economy stand a chance of putting the United States back on what more Americans would call "the right track"? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, weigh in.
Americans had better hope and pray that Barack Obama can put America on the right track — or at the very least insist that his policies do not make matters any worse than they already are. But when the new president promises $1 trillion deficits for "years to come," it’s tough not to experience a certain sinking feeling.
Truth is, there isn’t much a president can do to help the U.S. economy. But he can do much to hurt it. He can encourage the Treasury to print more money, which spurs inflation and kills American savings and investment. He can cajole ever more reluctant foreign governments, such as China, to buy more American debt. He could raise taxes and call it "investment in the public good," even as the recession drags on for a year or two.
He can also promote regulations and mandates that eliminate jobs, destroy industries and drive up the cost of living for all Americans. Obama’s enthusiasm for tax-subsidized "green jobs" is a prescription for all of that, and more.
Or he could keep the tax-and-regulate-and-spend impulses of a Democratic-controlled Congress in check. Seriously.
Obama is in an unenviable position, made much worse by the free spending ways of an ostensibly conservative president and, until 2007, a Republican Congress. The behavior of government over the past eight years has been a bipartisan disgrace. It’s hard to imagine how government will act any more responsibly with the Democrats in charge.
In their darker sour-grapes moments since losing the 2008 election, Republicans have sometimes looked at Barack Obama and grumbled: "Well, now the Democrats will get the blame every time things go wrong." That’s ungracious, but it’s also correct. The new president has his work cut out for him.
That is why it’s perversely refreshing to hear Obama say that harder times are ahead. "Recovery won’t happen overnight, and it’s likely that things will get worse before they get better," he said in a recent radio address. Americans have often been asked to choose between an unjustly optimistic president or their own lying eyes. Obama’s grim realism is thus bracing, but welcome.
That doesn’t mean he can fix America’s problems — some economists say the $750 billion stimulus isn’t big enough. But whatever dire warnings Republicans make about Obama’s plans, the reality is this: American savings and investment have already cratered, hundreds of thousands of jobs have already been lost and entire industries are already on the cusp of ruin.
Deepening American indebtedness is indeed an unattractive prospect, but the alternative may be watching the economy run off the rails. No president can afford inaction in the face of such a threat.
There’s no telling if Obama can get American back on the right track. But everybody — Republicans included — should hope he can.
(Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis podcast weekly at http://www.infinitemonkeysblog.com and http://politics.pwblogs.com/.)
(Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis blog daily at www.infinitemonkeysblog.com and joelmathis.blogspot.com.)