Advance disclaimer: While the tone of this column may sound pessimistic, I want to assure you that I am optimistic about George W. Bush's ability to lead this nation at this most difficult time. But realism requires that we squarely acknowledge the enormity of the challenges he'll face. Let's take a brief inventory:
Clinton and Gore will bequeath to Bush a multitude of significant domestic and foreign problems and a disturbingly polarized nation. Only purely partisan Democrats could relish the irony of Clinton luxuriating for eight years in a robust economy and military he inherited from Reagan-Bush and then squandering both just in time for a hapless Republican to take the fall for them.
For two terms Clinton methodically established his principal legacy of simultaneously undermining the cherished institutions of this great nation while availing himself of all the advantages of their glory. He reveled in the capital of our institutions while sucking them dry. He used the military like a toy and left it in relative tatters. He made a mockery of the rule of law, while hiding behind it to stay outside the reach of justice. He deceitfully obstructed meaningful reform for Medicare and Social Security while using both as political clubs for beating Republicans. He demonized and taxed the fire out of the great income producers of this nation but was exempted from the economic consequences of his fiscal policy by congressional Republicans and Alan Greenspan. He threw more and more federal money at education, and exerted greater federal control over it while watching our students' test scores plummet.
Clinton is retiring with a nation convinced that budget surpluses will abound in the foreseeable future. Yet, these surpluses depend on economic growth, and signs are pointing toward a major slowdown. Bush's efforts to honor his pledge to enact tax cuts to reinvigorate the economy will be met by resistance from class-warmongering Democrats, and possibly a recalcitrant Alan Greenspan.
Clinton failed to articulate, much less promulgate, a coherent post-Cold War foreign policy. Presently, no rules exist as to if or when America should play a role in international relations and disputes. Tensions are on the rise throughout the globe: between China and Taiwan -- Clinton all but encouraged it; in the Middle East -- Clinton intervened in the internal affairs of Israel, and his chosen leader, in the name of peace, has undertaken a reckless policy of unilateral appeasement; Iraq, aided by the absence of U.N. weapons inspectors, whose efforts Clinton undercut, continues its development of weapons of mass destruction; NATO, post Clinton and Blair, doesn't know whether it's an offensive or defensive alliance; and Russia warns that we are an arrogant superpower.
As a parting shot, Clinton and Gore, after unsuccessfully trying to misappropriate the election, have fostered the illusion that Bush was the culprit, adding further fuel to the divisive embers that threaten the fabric of our society.
In short, Clinton and Gore are leaving Bush and Cheney with a monumental mess on a multitude of matters. If all of this weren't enough, in addition, everybody seems to be against Bush, including many in his own party.
African-Americans appear to be completely alienated from Republicans (partially due to the Clinton-Gore politics of division).
Senate Democrats are preaching conciliation, but promising confrontation, demanding from the Republicans a procedural power-sharing and a substantive surrender -- or else.
Certain feckless congressional Republicans are poised to oppose Bush's agenda in an effort to "get along." Sen. McCain has promised to make Bush's beginning days in office even more trying by egotistically insisting that his campaign finance reform proposal take center stage, regardless of the damage to any momentum Bush will be trying to develop for his own agenda.
Bush just can't seem to win; many liberals think he's conservative, and many conservatives think he's liberal. On social issues, some in the Christian right think he's too moderate, while the left thinks he's too extreme.
Bush faces the daunting task of replenishing the capital for all the institutions of this country that Clinton has depleted. He must undertake this task with an opposition party and national media unwilling to recognize his legitimacy and committed to his failure. The implementation of Bush's agenda will require no small amount of courage and resolve. Early signs are that he has plenty of both. He'll need our prayers.