I pity the fool who wins Tuesday’s presidential election.
Not only because I enjoy stealing Mr. T’s favorite line, but also because I think I understand the place that’s already been carved in history for either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.
Because no one can get through the next four years and come out looking good unless they have the intellectual caliber of Franklin Roosevelt, the arm-twisting skills of Lyndon Johnson, and the focus of Abraham Lincoln. Unless I am very mistaken about Romney, neither candidate meets those qualifications.
The US is not only mired in an economic Depression, it has serious structural and systemic problems. The Great Depression of the 1930s was worse but, although the banks failed, the factories still existed. When the economy began to turn around, the factories re-opened. Small businesses saw an influx of cash from workers’ pay envelopes. And all this happened before World War II put the economy into over-drive.
Now the factories are gone. Back in the Great Depression, they didn’t tear down the factories and send the production lines to China and Vietnam. This time, they did. And small businesses are all but extinct, replaced by stores owned by billionaires employing part-time workers who need food stamps to get by.
At the same time, the Baby Boomers have gone from being producers and consumers of stuff to simply consumers of services, many of them provided by bankrupt federal, state, and municipal governments. The education system is in the tank as a generation of kids tries to beat the odds by getting BAs. Universities have flung open their doors and dumbed down their programs to accommodate the flood of indebted students.
And the U.S. is still bleeding money for a military that spends more than Russia, China, France, Britain, and Germany combined, with not a whole hell of a lot to show for it.
(That, and the temporary success our resource industries, are the main differences between us and the US. Our provinces, which carry much of the cost of serving baby-boomers and long-term unemployed people, are racking up per capita debt levels that make those in America look rational. But no one talks about that.)
And the U.S. political system has lost the give and take that made it work for 200 years. Party partisanship is hardening, the way it is in Canada. So a president whose party does not have control on Capitol Hill is in a state of check-mate. Since Newt Gingrich’s days as Speaker, the chief powerbroker in the House of Representatives, compromise has been seen as weakness, even though it is essential to the U.S. system.
The U.S. has been offered two mediocre candidates. One ran one of the most brilliant campaigns in U.S. history and was elected president with the same level of expectations that Franklin Roosevelt carried into office in 1933. Like Roosevelt, Obama came to power during a wave of bank failures. Unlike Roosevelt, Obama was unable to engineer a 100 Days of change and reform. From his first broken promise, the closing of Guantanamo’s prison — which would have been symbolic of the beginning of the unraveling of the police state erected by George W. Bush — to his failure to stem the tide of offshoring of jobs, Obama has been big on talk and small on action.
His opponent is a confusing man — one who seems intent on being elected without explaining who he really is or what he will do with power. That Americans are seriously considering this dissembler shows how desperate they have become.
The next president, and the ones after that, for a generation or more, will have to be spectacularly bright, talented, and hard-working to have any chance of surviving the troubles heaped on him or her by a country that requires real hope and change. Neither Americans — the wealthy, the poor, the Boomers — or their president have shown any real desire to sacrifice or work their way out of the mess.
At some point they will have to. But right now, two middling men want the job but neither want the work.