Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Say you've just been elected President of the United States after campaigning on the themes of "hope" and "change". Your opponent, an aged former military pilot, had campaigned as an experienced statesman whose decisiveness contributed to a major military achievement in Iraq. But a sharp economic downturn shortly before the election made his foreign policy expertise seem somewhat irrelevant, and his Vice-Presidential choice became a national laughingstock. Meanwhile, your moderate, optimistic proposals to cut taxes for the middle class while making the rich pay their fair share, improve health care coverage, and create national service programs for young people, were attractive enough to voters to allay their doubts about your alleged radical past. (Fawning press coverage didn't hurt, either.) Now you have a solid electoral victory under your belt, as well as clear Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. What do you do next?

Well, the future is always difficult to predict, of course. But experience suggests a few do's and don'ts:
  • DON'T expect the free ride from the media to continue. Given their irrationally stratospheric expectations, attack-dog mentality (possibly exacerbated by guilt over their previous obsequiousness) and lack of a suitable alternative powerful figure to tear down, your every scandal, misfortune or embarrassing incident, no matter how big or small, will be jumped on.
  • DON'T pander to your base with appointments and executive orders that alienate moderates and inflame conservatives. You'll only end up backing down under pressure to save your administration's tattered reputation.
  • DON'T attempt to create any grand, elaborate new social programs of breathtaking scope and complexity. You may think you have a mandate to do such things, but you don't.
  • DO go ahead and raise taxes at the high end of the income scale. If the economy hasn't recovered in a couple of years, your presidency is doomed anyway, and if it has, then the resulting improved fiscal condition of the government will more than compensate for the slight drag on spending, laying the foundation for a robust economic recovery.
  • DON'T get lured into expanding ill-defined foreign military missions. Your crisis manager and commander-in-chief cred is shaky enough already.
  • DO support free trade. Again, good economic fundamentals will come in handy once the current economic storm passes--and if it doesn't, then having pandered to unions years before won't do you much good.
  • DON'T expect your first midterm election to be a happy one.

If any of you readers happen to be in this situation, I hope this list has been helpful...