Monday, November 24, 2008

Sorry, Virginia; there is no Obama Claus

Americans once were content to elect mere presidents; in Barack Obama, they seem to think they have found an all-powerful savior, able to save the economy and planet simultaneously by bestowing Washington's blessings on the long list of supplicants making pilgrimages to his door. Every industry and special interest is sending its wish list off to Washington, as if it were the North Pole -- now even the ski industry -- while visions of sugar plums and subsidies dance in their heads. All expect that Obama Claus will reach into his sack and deliver the goodies.

But sorry, Virginia, there is no Obama Claus.

The president-elect is expected to boost the market, save people from home foreclosures, "create" jobs, bring peace, save the planet and, oh yes, get people out to the ski slopes -- all in the first 100 days, preferably. Maybe at the inauguration, he'll help the disabled to walk and the blind to see.

The old American ideals of limited government and self-reliance are slumbering, if not dead. And that's an alarming development, since American presidents aren't meant to have such powers. The stage is set for either a dangerous (and possibly unconstitutional) expansion of executive branch powers (here there really may be a parallel with FDR) , or, more likely, an upsurge of dismay and disappointment (maybe even rage) when it becomes clear that the next president isn't a super-hero or a saint, but a human being, with a limited capacity to deliver all that's promised.

This is the logical result of American political campaigns that have devolved into little more than a litany of expensive and unrealistic promises, about what Washington will do for you, do for us, when this person or that party is in charge. Neither candidate can win if he or she acknowledges the limitations of the office, or of Washington's capacity to cure all ills. So they spend the campaign writing checks they can't cash.

The presidency is a potent office; but no president does or should have the power to do all the things Barack Obama is saying he'll do; it's contrary to the system of limited government and checks and balances the founders handed down to us. And the sooner Obama acknowledges those limitations, the better off he and we will be -- since anyone who sets himself on such a high pedestal is bound to take a long and terrible fall.

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