Last month I pointed out the ways in which Obama’s policies could threaten the country’s future. Here I look at the issue from the other direction: the extent to which his agenda, or what seems to be his agenda, could threaten his own political future. An incumbent president faces conspicuous hazards in two broad fields. The first is no-win military entanglements which the public feels have gone on for too long; the second is a poorly functioning economy.
I am trying to be optimistic but it isn’t easy. The Obama people have been in office for less than six weeks (as I write) and yet everything seems to have gone from bad to worse.
Certainly that was the sentiment among those I spoke to the other evening at the Hoover Institution’s Washington party. Of Obama’s performance to date, Ed Crane, the president of the Cato Institute, said, “He’s in way over his head.” Bill Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard and normally an optimist, told me in a tone of foreboding, “I’m more worried than I thought I would be.”
Fred Smith, president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said at first he had thought that Obama seemed smart, so he “had hopes.” Now? “Buyer’s remorse is going to be huge,” he predicted. “I can see Obama becoming the shortest-term popular American president in history.” Did I detect a note of Schadenfreude?
Bruce Bartlett, an economics columnist and a former deputy assistant secretary of the Treasury, said he was concerned that the new economic team had “built up the expectation that these people knew what they were doing. But so far they haven’t delivered.”
I bought my condo in Washington, D.C., 25 years ago, for a little over $100,000; two bedrooms, two baths, in a “good” part of the city (meaning safe, about a mile north of Georgetown). As a freelance writer I had no salary, but I qualified for a mortgage all the same. How come? Well, when I went to see the money lenders I brought along some letters, including one I had received from Ronald Reagan (written before he was president) and from one or two other political notables as well. I debated whether to include my Nixon letters (written after he was president!) and can’t right now recall whether I decided they would impress these gentlemen more than they would frighten them.
I was deemed qualified. But rest assured, Reagan or Nixon had little to do with it. By far the most important consideration was that I had put up 50 percent of the purchase price. In cash. That no doubt persuaded the moneylenders that I had every intention of repaying the loan. Which I have done (well, almost).
When I was in England this summer my brother asked me if I knew anything about “peak oil.” I wasn’t too sure, to be honest. He is inclined to accept the theory, and even gave me a book to study, The Last Oil Shock (2007), by a journalist called David Strahan. I read some of it and told my brother I would write an article about it. So here goes.
Peak Oil is the theory that the production of oil, worldwide, has reached a plateau and is now heading downward. Oil is the (supposedly) fossilized residue of animal and vegetable life and a “finite resource.” So it’s bound to run out sooner or later, as we are often reminded. (I wonder, though, if oil isn’t abiotic, as Thomas Gold thought. Maybe huge reservoirs exist at much greater depths?)