by George Friedman
Reprinted with permission from Stratfor
U.S. presidential candidates run for office as if they would be free to act however they wish once elected. But upon election, they govern as they must. The freedom of the campaign trail contrasts sharply with the constraints of reality.
The test of a president is how effectively he bridges the gap between what he said he would do and what he finds he must do. Great presidents achieve this seamlessly, while mediocre presidents never recover from the transition. All presidents make the shift, including Obama, who spent his first hundred days on this task.
Obama won the presidency with a much smaller margin than his supporters seem to believe. Despite his wide margin in the Electoral College, more than 47 percent of voters cast ballots against him. Obama was acutely aware of this and focused on making certain not to create a massive split in the country from the outset of his term. He did this in foreign policy by keeping Robert Gates on as defense secretary, bringing in Hillary Clinton, Richard Holbrooke and George Mitchell in key roles and essentially extrapolating from the Bush foreign policy. So far, this has worked. Obama’s approval rating rests at 69 percent, which The Washington Post notes is average for presidents at the hundred-day mark.
Obama, of course, came into office in circumstances he did not anticipate when he began campaigning — namely, the financial and economic crisis that really began to bite in September 2008. Obama had no problem bridging the gap between campaign and governance with regard to this matter, as his campaign neither anticipated nor proposed strategies for the crisis — it just hit. The general pattern for dealing with the crisis was set during the Bush administration, when the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve Board put in place a strategy of infusing money into failing institutions to prevent what they feared would be a calamitous economic chain reaction.
Obama continued the Bush policy, though he added a stimulus package. But such a package had been discussed in the Bush administration, and it is unlikely that Sen. John McCain would have avoided creating one had he been elected. Obviously, the particular projects funded and the particular interests favored would differ between McCain and Obama, but the essential principle would not. The financial crisis would have been handled the same way — just as everything from the Third World debt crisis to the Savings and Loan crisis would have been handled the same way no matter who was president. Under either man, the vast net worth of the United States (we estimate it at about $350 trillion) would have been tapped by printing money and raising taxes, and U.S. assets would have been used to underwrite bad investments, increase consumption and build political coalitions through pork. Obama had no plan for this. Instead, he expanded upon the Bush administration solution and followed tradition. [Read more…]