Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hard to predict happy endings from new beginnings

I'm still getting used to the idea that we now have a President who is younger than I am.

Bill Clinton was very young when he became President, too, but I was a lot younger in 1992.

Having experienced a few presidential transitions during my adult life, I can compare and contrast them -- and see how the bright promise of a new beginning so quickly fades.

Speaking of Bill Clinton, when George W. Bush succeeded him, there was a general sense in the country that the adults were getting back in control. Clinton had been the frat-boy-in-chief, immature and irresponsible in his personal life, and he seemed to surround himself with young people, the 'policy wonks,' ordering pizza in at all hours. The general level of churlishness and childishness reached its zenith in the last-ditch strategy employed by Al Gore's partisans in challenging the outcome of the 2000 election.

Some of you will be angry with me for saying that, but consider: Richard Nixon -- Richard Nixon! -- had a good case to make that the 1960 election was stolen from him. It was no secret that the razor-thin margin in Illinois was the product of massive vote fraud. (Richard J. Daley, the father of our current Mayor-for-Life, was happy to take credit for putting an Irish Catholic in the White House; that fuels the legend. What most folks didn't understand then and don't know now was that John F. Kennedy was merely a third party beneficiary of Daley's all-out crusade to defeat the reelection bid of Cook County State's Attorney Benjamin Adamowski, a Republican and an apostate.) Less well known now are the shenanigans that took place in Texas, which also went for the Democrats by a narrow margin. Read Robert A. Caro's biographies of Lyndon Baines Johnson, though, and you'll know what I'm talking about. If the fraudulent votes were tossed out in both states, it is just possible that Nixon would have won the presidency.

Yet, unlike Gore, three days after the votes were cast, Nixon said he would not challenge the results. (If you read the linked Wikipedia entry, you'll see that challenges persisted for many months -- but, because Nixon was not pushing the contests, these did not tie up the country in knots or divide it into hostile camps.)

When the Bush people moved into the White House, many found their offices vandalized by the departing Clintonistas. Removing the W's from many of the White House computer keyboards was among the more humorous, and least damaging, pranks.

Of course, in exchanging Bill Clinton for George W. Bush, many people felt we were exchanging one frat boy for another. But, unlike Clinton, Mr. Bush -- so the popular wisdom went at the time -- surrounded himself with seasoned hands and wise gray heads who would seriously address the people's business. You know -- people like Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney....

Rumsfeld and Cheney? Popular wisdom isn't always wise.

And therein lies my point: Things don't always work out as planned. In fact, things generally don't work out as planned.

Now, as we celebrate the launching of Mr. Obama's administration, many are comforted by the fact that he is bringing along with him so many wise and seasoned veterans from... the Clinton years. Some may still have W's in a drawer somewhere.

I wish Mr. Obama well. But his agenda will now be set by events. And we can't tell -- even from an auspicious beginning -- that things will work out alright in the long run.

For his sake, and ours, I hope it will.


Rob said...

It'll be interesting to see how things shake out & shape up with Obama. The world is a different place from every perspective - least of which is my own. Until recently, I never bothered to be very informed or involved in governmental happenings.

With age (and hopefully a dash of maturity) I think I've unwittingly acquired a far greater interest in civics, both local & national.

By the way, I wonder if had there been a lot more Colin Powell and lot less Rumsfeld & Cheney influence, maybe we'd have a vastly different feeling about the value of President #43. Just a thought...

Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

i didn't dislike cheney but then i wouldn't go hunting with him either...

smiles, bee