America has a new President. It is the beginning of a new administration. But, it is not the beginning of a new "era." Many commentators, especially those of a Leftist bent, are declaring the inauguration of President Barack Obama brings to a close the conservative era that began with the Presidency of Ronald Wilson Reagan. In 1993, when President Bill Clinton took office, many of the same pundits also proclaimed the conservative era had ended. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now.
For starters, the beginning and end of an "era" in the nation’s history cannot be determined before it begins or ends, or even for years afterward. That is because eras are a historical construct that often take generations to discern. In 1981 nobody declared the ascendency of a "conservative era." It wasn’t until Reagan was succeeded in the White House by President George H.W. Bush that a conservative realignment was apparent. And, some would argue, it took Republicans gaining control of Congress in 1994 and the election of George W. Bush in 2000 to firmly cement in place conservative dominion over public policy.
And then there is the matter of what Barack Obama may or may not be able to accomplish. He ascends to the Presidency with high hopes and great expectations. The flames of these passions were fanned by his campaign and a fawning mainstream news media that have built him up to be nothing short of the second coming of Christ. But, he is a mere man and Washington has a way of humbling even the most skilled of politicians.
President Obama comes to office with the least experience of any President since John Fitzgerald Kennedy. It should be noted that Kennedy’s brief tenure in office was largely a failure. His first foreign policy challenge, the Bay of Pigs in Cuba, was a disaster. At the time of his assassination his legislative agenda was bogged down in Congress. Had he lived, JFK may have ended up on a lower rung of Presidential greats.
During the campaign Vice President Joe Biden warned America’s new leader would likely face significant threats from our enemies abroad early in his term. Biden likely will be proven to be correct. Russia’s Putin, Iran’s Ahmadinejad, and Venezuela’s Chavez are all poised to cause trouble. An untested commander-in-chief will have to respond. The success or failure of his first test will set the tone for the balance of his administration.
If circumstances permit, and the new President can set his own agenda, domestic matters will take center stage. Here too expectations are high. The new administration has been trying to inject a bit of reality into the situation, saying recently the recession could last well into 2010. The question is, how patient will the American people be, especially with the recession deepening and hopes riding so high?
The challenges awaiting the new administration are immense, and it is prudent to assume some progress will be made, but no magic wand is going to create morning in America overnight. And, it is possible – even likely – that some of the policies advanced by the President and an enhanced Democratic majority in Congress will make the situation worse, rather than better. For example, efforts to spend our way out of the recession likely will prolong it, especially if new and higher taxes are part of the equation.
President Obama is riding into the White House on a wave of adulation, but not on the curl of a landslide election. It is important to keep in mind that a relatively small shift of votes in a handful of key electoral states resulted in his victory. As close as five weeks before the votes were cast he actually trailed Senator John McCain in the polls. Had a foreign crisis rather than an economic crisis occurred in October, the result of the election could have been markedly different. It should also be pointed out that Republicans have fared well in elections held subsequent to last November’s Presidential balloting, scoring a lopsided victory in a Georgia U.S. Senate run-off and an upset victory for a New Orleans Congressional seat.
This is less the ending of an era than it is the natural ebb and flow of politics. Americans are always looking for change, and after eight years of Republican rule the pendulum has again swung back to the Democrats. America is also a nation that celebrates youth and charisma, and the new President has that in abundance.
But in the end, what America needs is an experienced hand in foreign affairs, and a return to basic free market principles in our economy. President Obama brings neither to office. That isn’t to say he cannot succeed. But it does mean it is way too premature to declare the end of a conservative era and the dawning of the Age of Obama.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected])
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