Predicting the future is generally fraught with dangers. Three hundred sixty-five days ago, no one expected that Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, and AIG would all have to be bailed out by the government, or that the investment bank would cease to exist as an independent agency. No one would have imagined on seeing oil prices pass $100 a barrel at the beginning of the year that they would collapse below $40 a barrel towards the end. Yet that doesn't stop me from trying.
The new president will take office with a dreary backdrop. Financial markets panicked last September and are still recovering. Unfortunately, in their slide down, they also took down economic output. This year will be a bad year in economic terms, although I would be surprised if we weren't managing out of it by the end of the year, providing politicians aren't stupid.
Foreign policy promises to be a big issue. The lame duck days of the Bush presidency saw an attack on Gaza by Israel. No matter how you view it, it is undeniable that the conflict will have to be resolved during the next four years. I predict, however, that, yet again, it will be no closer to resolution in four years than it is today. American foreign policy is generally so pro-Israel that the United States would struggle to be seen as a neutral arbitrator in the decision.
I don't see much for positive news in the other major areas of foreign policy. In four years, I think the United States will still have a sizable presence in Iraq, American and Iraqi politicians' claims notwithstanding. The condition in Afghanistan will continue to worsen as other NATO forces rethink their stays there and pull out. Obama will be unable to effect much change in the major African countries that are having problems: Congo, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, and Côte d'Ivoire; I don't expect to hear anything more than the normal stern words on the matter from him.
"Green" will be the new fashion of the next administration. Obama and Congress will pass a few new laws to try to cut emissions; both will be beholden by interest groups to ease up on some of the stuff, producing gaping loopholes. This will be a golden opportunity the politicians to explain how much smarter they are than scientists: expect more ethanol subsidies and production mandates (despite the fact that corn-based ethanol is at best carbon-neutral (there, I said it) and is known to cause problems in other areas of the environment: increased water and fertilizer usage, aggravating already untenable environmental situations). Many of these goals will likely be broken.
In terms of major domestic initiatives, the front will be mixed. Obama will push heavily for universal health care in his first two years; Republicans will likely fight tooth-and-nail on several components. There probably will be something of the form passed before mid-term elections, but it will come late and be quite watered down. Less contentious issues, such as increased funding for "infrastructure" will make it through. Fiscal austerity might be rediscovered in the latter half of his first term, but it's iffy. Neither tax reform nor Social Security reform nor Medicare reform will pass, although Obama might make a halfhearted attempt at one of these. Most political capital will be spent on the universal health care issue.
Government being what it is, the Democrats will see losses in the mid-term elections. More surprisingly to many, though, I predict that Obama will fail to win a second term. Why? Obama campaigned primarily on a platform of change; a platform which he will fail to achieve. Many new (i.e., young) voters will become disillusioned and not turn out for the subsequent election. Also note some facts: until the financial markets fell to pieces in September, Obama, despite having considerable media advantage and benefiting from a strong anti-incumbent sentiment, was pretty much statistically tied with McCain. In four years, there will be no economic malaise as a backdrop, the anti-incumbent sentiments will be turned against him (although probably weaker than in more recent history), and the Republicans will have pulled themselves together. As pundits like to point out, no party has quite the knack the Democrats have for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Yes, my views of the next administration are pessimistic. They're also probably colored by my disagreement with the incoming party's politics. But they are just predictions, and they can be wrong… or they could be right. Who knows?