As the end of the disastrous Bush presidency approaches, some of his opponents anticipate what they see as the coming of a new president who will put an end to Bush's evil deeds and establish a new era of prosperity, respect for civil rights and world peace.....a new heaven and a new earth, or at least a new Washington, D.C.
Lest we be too complacent, I posit that Mr. Obama, if he wins the presidency, will not be much of an improvement on Mr. Bush. Yes, I like Obama, and he'd be some improvement. If I weren't voting for a third party candidate, I'd vote for him in November. I hope he wins.
But he is a man as any a man ever was, with his own virtues and vices. And if he wins, he'll assume an office institutionally bound to certain pathways. He'll be the head of a vast bureaucracy--the executive branch--over which he'll exercise important, but limited and by no means absolute, control. As the one responsible for America's foreign policy, he'll, sooner or later, be thinking in terms of raison d'etat and protecting "American interests" abroad. He'll make claims of executive privilege vis-a-vis Congress and, most likely, will not voluntarily abrogate Mr. Bush's arrogations of power to the presidency.
The person who occupies the presidency has much power for good and ill. A president can decide, effectively, to take the country to war, to issue executive orders with a wide impact on governance and of course to veto, sign and promote bills. But those who anticipate a new millennium shouldn't forget that the presidency bears the weight and the burden of its history.