On November 7th, the election will be over, and, barring some unexpected legal problem, we will know who won the presidency. Half the country will be jubilant, half will be disappointed. But no crowds will be rioting in the streets, as in other countries. If the Republican wins, the transition in Washington will be peaceful, and President Obama will call President-elect Romney and wish him well. If the Democrat wins, Romney will do the same. There is a message there, for other countries.
But the President, whoever he is, may soon wish he lost. The problems the country faces are arguably the most intractable most of its citizens have ever experienced. The national debt is over 16 trillion dollars, and it is growing with every tick of the second hand. (See USDebtClock.org.) Household debt is larger than disposable income. Student debt is approaching 1 trillion dollars. Our industrial production is headed south. Pension obligations are impossible to meet. The problem is most acute in the public sector, but even in the private sector there is big trouble brewing. General Mills, for instance, has an unrealistic 9.5% target for its investments, and the median expected rate of return for S&P500 companies is 7.8%. How many investors are making 7.8% these days? Hard-up pensioners and the unemployed are going to demand increased services, except that we can’t afford the services we’re already providing.
So the economic picture is horrendous. The international picture is as bad. In our efforts to export our values, we have managed to create millions of enemies over the past decade. Some of them lost brothers or parents or children in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they have long memories, and they blame us. The president also has to deal with a Eurozone that is falling apart and with Asian countries that have quarrels with China and expect us to support them militarily. Israel is lobbying for us to attack Iran. “Us” is the American taxpayer, who already is deep in debt.
Why does anyone want to be president anyway? To fly around on Air Force One? To give the State of the Union address? To enjoy a comfortable retirement, writing books and being protected by the Secret Service? But Barack Obama already has that. Besides, whatever bad things happen (and you can be sure they will), he will get blamed. I am sure that George Bush thought he was doing the right thing going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but most people today believe he orchestrated the worst foreign-policy blunder in modern history. Given the world situation, it is possible that one of the two men now running for president may take the title from him.
On November 7th, the real winner may be the man who lost the election.