Writing before the election results are final, I have no idea of the outcome of the presidential race. So from behind a veil of ignorance, this column is an expression of support and good wishes to the newly elected president — whoever he is.
He’ll need it. The president-elect faces significant challenges, both domestically and abroad. The economic crisis plods on, and soon every family will feel its effects — if they haven’t already. The looming insolvency of Social Security and other social welfare programs hasn’t abated as attention has shifted to other problems, and in the background a fervent anti-Semite in Iran steadily makes progress in his quest for nuclear weapons.
Our new president won’t have much time to celebrate before making tough decisions. Fortunately, he’ll be able to take advantage of a national feeling of newness. Whether you voted for McCain or Obama, odds are you were hoping for a change from the status quo. The Bush administration has run its course, and it’s now up to history to make the final judgment. The present belongs to someone else.
Reflecting on the day after Tony Blair’s election in 1997, the conservative British writer Daniel Finkelstein writes, “[t]here was a feeling of euphoria in Britain that morning, a feeling of freshness and change. Even people who hadn’t voted for Blair were caught up in it.” The same good feeling can be expected here, if for no other reason than the sudden absence of negative TV advertisements.
The country remains deeply divided, however, and this will bedevil both the president-elect and Congress as they go about their business. Political campaigns tend to overuse the language of contrast, which in turn exaggerates the differences between friends and neighbors.
What may be useful to drive turnout and win votes becomes a serious liability when it comes time to govern and bring together those same people. Those who lost the election need to be assured that their voices are still heard, and those who won need to restrain the natural human tendency to overreach. It’s a delicate balance to strike.
So I wish the next president the best of luck as he assumes the most difficult job in the world. I wish him success, wisdom and restraint — for the sake of this great country. We’re all Americans, after all.
Rob Witwer, who grew up in Evergreen and currently lives in Genesee, is the outgoing state representative for House District 25.