Wednesday, December 31, 2008
As President-elect Obama vacations with his family in Hawaii and publicly complains about the intrusiveness of the press pool and the intense scrutiny of his Secret Service team, I suspect about now Obama may be recalling George Bernard Shaw's heartless observation that: "There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart's desire. The other is to get it."
This last week of December 2008 is a strange moment for the country. It must be positively bizarre for our president-elect. It seems as if all the problems of the world are lining up and just waiting for our new president to handle. For every American but one, we are merely waiting to see what Obama will do in three weeks. For that one -- Obama -- he, presumably, is puzzling over finding the right policies -- if there are any right policies. Probably there are only terrible and catastrophic policies to pick from.
There are media reports that he is smoking more than usual. Who could blame him? For many of the rest of us, we wake up at 2 in the morning worried about our family's or our business's finances. Obama has to worry about the nation's and the world's finances -- and wars and threats of yet more wars.
Americans continue to not shop (until recently the world, including citizen of the world Obama, condemned Americans for shopping to the tune of 25 percent of world consumption. Now the whole world is begging us to buy more stuff to keep the world from going broke.) How long will it be before President Obama repeats Bush's advice to Americans after September 11 to go shopping.
The economy continues its downward track. The bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler have been delayed a couple of months -- to give Obama time to be sworn in as president before the real unpleasantness begins (or the really big bucks are spent to delay the unpleasantness by a few more months).
As Pelosi and her colleagues get ready to spend about a trillion dollars to try and stimulate the economy, Obama is going to have to start saying no to his friends on the Hill. Left to their own devices, that $1 trillion will fall well short of the spending urges that get larger by the day. It must be tough to spend a trillion dollars you don't have -- and be called cheap.
But even as he must worry whether even a trillion dollars of stimulus can ameliorate the precipitous economic contraction, he must also worry about the real possibility of double digit inflation hitting our economy in six to 18 months -- as a result of all these trillions of freshly conjured-up dollars that will be flooding our currency supply.
Beyond the little matters of either deflation or hyper-inflation, Hamas broke its ceasefire with Israel, and Israel started defending herself again last week. Muslims worldwide and our many anti-semitic European friends are crying out for Israel to show "restraint."
Nobody cares what lame duck Bush says about this anymore, but the whole angry world awaits the first presidential utterance of Barack H. Obama on the matter of putting the Jews in their place. Will he speak for all the Jew haters in Europe and the Middle East -- or will he speak as every American president since Harry Truman has, and defend Israel's right to exist and militarily protect itself when its civilians are attacked by yet more fanatic, Islamist bombs and rockets?
Down the road a piece from Gaza, the Pakistani and Indian fanatics in the subcontinent are gearing up for another of their regular flirtations with nuclear annihilation. As I write, the Pakistanis and Indians are rushing troops up to their mutual border -- but, of course, hope to avoid war. Unless they have backed down by Jan. 20 at noon, stopping war while not antagonizing either of those needed allies will fall to Obama and his vastly experienced Secretary of State (who once rode foreign elephants with Chelsea -- so is superbly equipped to manage Hindu/Muslim fanaticism).
And, oh, by the way, the Chinese are talking of building their first aircraft carrier to compete with our blue water navy.
To add to the burdens of our young president elect, reports from around the world suggest that the instinct to protect local economies is growing, thus putting more pressure on free trade. While strong arguments can be made in individual trade cases, history is unambiguous about the result of increased protectionism during a period of world economic contraction.
Economically beggaring thy neighbor is a sure path to depression. Contrary to Obama's prior words and union allies's desires, he fails to champion world trade at the serious risk of repeating Herbert Hoover's catastrophic Smoot-Hawley protectionist mistake.
With history before Obama, I think of Shakespeare's young King Harry -- Henry V, the duties of fateful war falling on his inexperienced shoulders, the chorus early recites:
"For now sits Expectations in the air, and hides a sword from hilts unto the point With crowns imperial. Crowns and coronets, Promised to Harry and his followers."
Let us hope that the inexperienced Obama -- now with crowns and coronets and followers -- rises to his duty as young Harry did six centuries ago.
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