Things can only get better . . .

By Megan McArdle

Clive asks whether Obama's campaigning genius hasn't left expectations impossibly high.  I've been wondering if what I saw on television on election day was the normal process of transitioning to a Democratic presidency, or something different: the product of economic insecurity, or Obama's stunning personality.  Because some of the stuff I saw was crazy.

Being a libertarian, I naturally think that people are too optimistic about the government.  But there were people on CNN declaring that Obama was going to lower the price of gasoline and pay their mortgage if they couldn't afford it, lower their tax bill and raise their wages, and presumably, make them taller, smarter, and get the chickweed out of their hair.  I'm not exaggerating:  there were voters who seemed to think that about three weeks after Obama took office, all their budget problems would be solved.  Not that Obama would eventually make things better, or help them get past the rough spots; they were expecting an immediate influx of really quite a lot of money, as well as a rapid and permanent increase in base wages and housing prices.

I don't recall Republicans engaging in this kind of magical thinking in 2000.  They, too, seemed to have an unreasonable belief that George Bush was going to improve America a great deal (unreasonable even before 9/11), but as I recall, this was concentrated on intangibles like restoring honor to the white house, not putting an extra $3,000 in everyone's pockets.

I was eighteen when Clinton was elected, and I don't remember if this sort of thing is simply typical of Democratic victories.  But the expectations I saw in those "man on the street interviews" were not fulfillable by any president--at least, not until Santa agrees to stand for election. 

I don't mean to suggest that all, or even most of the Democrats are filled with impossible dreams of glory.  Well, I think they are, but impossible in the ordinary sense that anyone who believes a politician will make their lives substantially better needs to tell me where they get their drugs, because I've never been able to disconnect from reality that completely.

But some number of voters seem to be engaging in truly magical thinking about what is possible from a president.  What happens when they get a $500 increase in the child tax credit and military operations in Pakistan instead of fairyland?

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2008/11/things-can-only-get-better/4328/