The next few weeks and months may be the most dangerous time for wise public policy circa 2009-2016. Unless someone else gets into the presidential race and wins, one of the current crop of candidates will be the next president. (For anyone trying to get off the bottle, that ought to sober him up.) And regretfully, people can't count on a newly elected president to go back on all his campaign policy pronouncements once ensconced in the White House. For some new presidents, they may feel ashamed at breaking all their promises in the first year. For the less scruple-driven new presidents, it will just seem to be politically unwise to flip too many issues off the Truman Balcony before even the first snows of winter fall upon the new president's Capitol.
Thus, what the successful presidential candidate says in the spring and summer of his ascension year might actually become federal law and policy. Thankfully, most of the candidates haven't announced their policy plans in much detail yet.
For example, as Obama said last Thursday night in Iowa, he is in favor of addition, rather than division. This is a proposition that most fifth-graders struggling through math can agree with heartily. But for us adults, what exactly is Obama planning to add up? New federal programs? And if he likes addition, does he also like its handmaiden, subtraction? If so, is he planning to have the Internal Revenue Service subtract more of my income?
On the other hand, Hillary believes experience is useful in life and in a presidency. All of us over a certain age who no longer have youthful vim and vigor will nod approvingly as Hillary sings her praise of experience. Of course, the danger for Hillary on that is that some of us won't be nodding so much as we will be nodding off. And given her experiences in life, is she planning to learn from them or to continue them?
Huckabee wants to help the little guy. Who can argue with that? I know more than a few multimillionaires who sincerely believe they are little guys -- compared to the multinationals and big New York and London finance houses they have to deal with every business day. It's all a question of the definition of little.
But the danger is that, in the next few months, the presidential candidates will be forced either to support or to renounce the various foolish and ill-considered positions they have taken in life so far. Of course, until one of them becomes president, it doesn't really matter what they have said. Young politicians on the make grab ahold of all sorts of stupid ideas. God knows what a young Obama might have thought was a useful throwaway line once in left-wing Chicago community-action politics. Or what cozy-sounding nonsense did Huckabee offer up when trying to get elected governor of Arkansas? One shudders at the thought of what left-wing drivel Hillary pronounced -- blood still dripping from the meat -- to an audience in some Rust Belt union hall back in the old days.
Certainly we all have believed foolish things in our callow youth. But for one of the candidates (the winning one, whoever that is), it is all about to get real. And for us, too. So I, for one, am prepared to offer all the candidates 60 days of policy amnesty, just as urban police departments episodically give amnesty to people who bring in illegal guns -- and, in fact, pay them a few bucks for them. It's just a matter of practical civil hygiene.
Each candidate should come forth now and tell us he really doesn't want federal law to outlaw this industry or that (which he found politically useful to attack a few years ago). God save us if any of the candidates really want to enact the Kyoto treaty requirements (returning America to energy levels used during the 1990s). It would cause a crushing depression.
The winning candidate is about to represent and govern all the people, not a mere faction. As an electorate, we should have the maturity to let the candidates get serious about things now. (And the candidates should stop and pause before lurching forward with fresh commitment. It is easier to drop it now than after you are president.) This is not a matter of flip-flopping in order to pander to a constituency. This is about permitting the next president to shed youthful and factional excesses in preparation for governing the greatest country on the planet.