Tuesday, December 27, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Re-Set Is Always Bigger Than Anticipated

The new Donald Trump administration policy re-set, like the
recent historic ones before it, is likely going to be bigger
psychologically, as well as ideologically, than perhaps most
now assume it will be.

I cite, in the order they took place:

Hoover to Roosevelt in 1933
Carter to Reagan in 1981
George W. Bush to Obama in 2009

Each of the above represented a dramatic about-face in national
public policy. Each was not fully anticipated, even after election
day, to be the strong policy-changing phenomenon it became.
As the reader will note, there were only three such re-sets in
recent times. Roosevelt to Truman, Truman to Eisenhower,
Eisenhower to Kennedy, Kennedy to Johnson,, Johnson to Nixon,
Nixon to Ford, Ford to Carter, George H.W. Bush to Clinton, and
Clinton to George W. Bush each had transitions with some change,
obviously more when the presidency went from one party to the
other, but the changes were more of personality and degree than
of truly dramatic turns.

Big re-sets bring with them big political risks. In the cases of
Presidents Roosevelt and Reagan, their changes mostly worked
successfully for a longer period, and they were not only re-elected,
but in the case of 1988, Reagan’s vice president won. When they
don’t work well, as just happened with President Obama, they
trigger voter rejection.

In 2008, President George W. Bush finished his two terms under
the cloud of a mortgage banking meltdown that doomed John
McCain’s campaign against Barack Obama. Mr. Obama had not
campaigned as an agent of radical change, but as soon as he took
office he undertook major alterations of U.S. domestic and foreign
policy. The failure of his healthcare reform (known as Obamacare)
and the deterioration of his foreign policy worldwide, however,
made it difficult for Hillary Clinton to succeed him.

Actually, most new presidents don’t bring major policy re-sets
with them into office, and the state of general economic
conditions usually mark their tenure and their prospects for

Donald Trump, however, has not only promised major re-sets of
domestic and foreign public policies, his choice of cabinet
officers and White House staff clearly indicate such major change
is coming, and coming soon. It might not be “overnight” change,
of course, but his tax policies, trade policies, education policies,
immigration policies, judicial appointment criteria, as well as his
policies toward Europe, the Middle East, the United Nations, and
China each are likely to make some dramatic turns.

These changes, in themselves, do not guarantee success. I happen
to think his “supply-side” economic views, like Kennedy’s,
Reagan’s and George W. Bush’s efforts in the past will stimulate
the economy, but true supply-side success requires notable decreases
in public spending. Mr. Trump’s infrastructure ambitions might get
in the way of that. The new president, as I suggest, is likely to re-set
much economic public policy, but he could well not re-set much in
social policy, as some conservatives might hope he will.  His new
directions in foreign policy, and in reinvigorating the U.S. military,
are much needed, but the international landscape these days is a
an ambiguous and provisional stage of volatile operations --- and
Mr. Trump’s experience is limited (as was Mr Obama’s).

Donald Trump’s first 100 days as president of the United States
are something difficult to predict, from the vantage of three weeks
before he takes the oath of office, but they will be quite a spectacle.
Mr. Trump disrupted more than 50 years of political rules and
traditions, defied his critics’ judgments, and then won a national
campaign that upset almost everyone’s expectations.

As I asked out loud (in print) just after he won the Republican
nomination in Cleveland (then in terms of the general election
just ahead): What evidence is there that his performance as president
will be any less surprising than how he got to that white “bungalow"
on Pennsylvania Avenue in the first place?

We are only at the beginning of quite a political saga.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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