What Honeymoon?

By David S. Broder
Sunday, October 12, 2008

The good news for Barack Obama is that the calamities in the financial world may have created an insuperable barrier to John McCain's White House ambitions.

The bad news is that Obama stands to inherit the leadership of a country in far worse condition than he could have imagined when he began this campaign almost two years ago.

The short-term drama of the Wall Street implosion has been so compelling that its larger implications have been neglected. When you are worried about how many hundreds of points the Dow has shed and which banks may go belly up, it is difficult to focus on the Big Picture.

But it is clear that even if the tourniquets applied by Congress, the Treasury and the Federal Reserve stop the bleeding of our capital and credit systems, this country will be paying the price for its folly for a very long time.

Americans' confidence in their economic institutions has been badly shaken, and the world's confidence in the American economy shattered as well.

For now, Obama can benefit from the plausibility of his contention that this is "the final verdict" on the policies of the Bush administration, supported for the most part by McCain and other Republicans.

But in a few weeks, the winner of the election will take custody of the problem, and his name and reputation -- not Bush's -- will be on the line.

The fallout from this financial collapse will be felt in so many ways one can hardly begin to describe them. Old allies such as Britain, France and Germany that have been dragged into this morass by the United States will think twice about following our lead on anything.

Adversaries such as Iran and Russia may be tempted to test us, knowing that our resources are depleted and our people distracted. And here at home, political dilemmas will crowd the scene.

If, as seems likely, the economic crisis swells the ranks of Democrats in the House and Senate, the new president will face an early test: Repair the battered financial system or move ahead on the Democrats' domestic agenda.

The numbers in the first budget Obama would have to prepare will look scary indeed. The deficit could approach an unimaginable trillion dollars. His economic advisers would undoubtedly counsel him that he must, at all costs, signal to the world that he will impose the kind of discipline needed to prevent runaway inflation and a run on the dollar.

But the larger the Democratic majorities, the greater the pressure will be to deliver promptly on the promises Obama has made in the campaign.

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