When Bill Clinton handed off the keys to the White House to George W. Bush in 2001, the nation was in good shape, having enjoyed eight years of peace and prosperity. America was enjoying its first budget surplus in three decades. The economy was healthy. The U.S. Constitution was still intact. The dollar was strong and was still the world's reserve currency of choice. Gas was $1.20 a gallon.
However, Bush's successor won't be so lucky. In fact, no president has ever handed off a great mess to his successor in U.S. history.
In fact, I pity the next president. Bush has dug America into a hole so deep, that a lot of the titanic problems he's gotten us into will be pretty much impossible to solve.
Take America's out-of-control, gigantic budget deficits, for example. The next president will inherit a record $482 billion deficit in 2009. And actually, that's a conservative estimate by the White House (which misleadingly isn't including the massive additional costs of the Iraq War in its budget forecasts).
Speaking of the Iraq War, no president has ever left his successor a single bigger ongoing crisis. There is no real solution to this ongoing $3 trillion fiasco of a war. In fact, Bush's only "solution" has been to simply drag out this war long enough to hand it off to his successor. And the Afghanistan War is another ongoing fiasco with no end in sight.
Then, there's America's deteriorating economy. When Bush tried his hand in the private sector years ago, he managed to drive all three companies he had a hand in into the ground. Now, he's done pretty much the same thing to America itself.
The economy today is a horrendous mess, with 3.2 million manufacturing jobs lost since 2001. The ongoing subprime mortgage crisis is a black hole of doom and gloom with no end in sight. Serious financial commentators are starting to speak of a new 1930s style Great Depression. Some 2 million Americans stand to lose their homes in the coming years.
America's ability to get things around the world accomplished has been seriously diminished under Bush. In fact, Bush's successor will inherit a nation that is now widely feared and hated around the world. Once, when U.S. presidents used to talk to other nations about the need to respect human rights, America's words carried great weight. Now, such lectures are simply laughed at and ignored.
Along with our lost moral authority, America's clout on the international stage has been vastly weakened under Bush. For a start, our military (which has been severely battered in the Iraq fiasco) is in terrible shape.
And the dollar (which was a principal lever of U.S. power for decades) is a joke these days. The dollar continues to plummet in value---a trend which is certain to continue as America's creditor nations get increasingly spooked by out-of-control U.S. deficits.
Clearly, America is a totally different nation than the one that Bush inherited when he assumed power in 2001.
Seven short years ago, the American Dream was still alive. America was still a "Can Do" nation. We still had the ability to get things done.
Now, in addition to being broke, most Americans are deeply cynical and pessimistic. Even if the next president can do something about our financial crisis, he's going to find it real tough to restore the faith that many of us have lost in America during the Bush nightmare years.
In short, it will take decades for America to recover from the Bush years. The enormous problems we face today will simply be too great for the next president to solve, no matter what course of action he takes. All we can hope for is that the next president can stop the rot.