The big one
Barring an unforeseen catastrophe, Barack Obama will be elected president of the United States tomorrow. Barring an unforeseen miracle, by the time he is inaugurated, the US (and much of the rest of the world) will be in the deepest recession for decades. This is going to be a huge challenge, and two months of drift certainly won’t help. Paul Krugman is calling (not sure how seriously) for an interim government of national unity. It seems highly unlikely, though, even in the face of a failure as complete as that of any Administration since Hoover’s (or maybe Buchanan’s) that Bush will be willing to cede even one day of power to the incoming Democrats.
The situation when Obama takes over will be one of huge challenges and huge opportunities. The challenges are obvious: the economy in a gigantic mess, a string of foreign policy disasters and military misadventures and a deeply divided country. Only changes that are both radical and well designed will fix these problems, and this is a difficult combination to pull off.
The opportunities are the flip side of this. Not only does Obama seem likely to come in with big Democratic majorities in both Houses of Congress and a big popular mandate*, but the severity of the crisis has undermined what seemed like unalterable political taboos. The Republican Administration has just nationalised a large chunk of the banking system, and has long since abandoned any adherence to notions like balanced budgets. In these circumstances, the idea that policies of expanded government intervention are too radical for Americans to contemplate seem only marginally less silly than a literal acceptance of the McCain clam that Obama’s victory would constitute a referendum in favour of socialism.
Looking at what Obama needs to do, the big items are bringing the financial system back under control, rebalancing the tax system while substantially increasing tax revenue in the long term and completing the New Deal, particularly with respect to health care. More on all these items soon.
* In this context, I don’t think it’s critical that the Dems win the 60 Senate seats required to stop a filibuster under the Senate’s arcane procedural rules. It’s usually possible to peel off a few moderate votes. And, in any case, it’s just a procedural rule that can be abolished by simple majority. The threat of that happening will probably be enough to prevent overuse of this device.