Had Barack Obama possessed a magic crystal ball more than two years ago when he started his run for the presidency, and could have foreseen the mess he would inherit come Jan. 20, 2009, he might well have run screaming for the exits.

Why, one might wonder, would anybody in his right mind want to take over such a screwed-up government, an economy in tatters, a too-long-neglected infrastructure, a banking/financial system in chaos, the pillars of American corporatedom lining up to beg for government handouts, millions of jobs vanished into thin air, and public confidence in leadership at record lows?

It’s somewhat like the wry observation of the guy whose job it is to trail behind the elephants at the circus with a pooper-scooper: Hey, it’s all showbiz. Well, hey, it’s all politics, and after all, the president’s job does come with a nice rent-free house, a swell airplane (no standing in line, taking off shoes for security, or luggage fees), chefs, and lackeys/fawners galore. But lordy, if this country were a horse in such pitiful shape, we’d probably call the vet to put it down.

It is one of the ironies of the age that an administration and party claiming the high ground of fiscal probity have set new standards of fiscal irresponsibility — even before the banking/financial crisis of the past several months that saw the Treasury doors flung wide, unrestrained spending had resulted in massive debt levels to be passed on to our children and grandchildren.

Now, we’re talking trillions rather than billions, and who knows were it will end as more failing, mismanaged businesses come hat in hand to try and cadge bailout bucks from Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

Toss in another $1 trillion to $3 trillion for the Iraq war that should’ve never been, a Medicare system that poses a potentially astronomical fiscal liability unless something is done to bring its escalating costs under control (including the blank check the outgoing administration insisted on handing the pharmaceutical companies for a no-competitive-bid prescription drug program), and hundreds of billions for assorted other programs that, like ‘Topsy, have “jes’ growed,” and the mind boggles at the enormity of it all.

All this has been abetted by a dismembering of governmental regulatory safeguards established over decades. In a Mad Magazine Alfred E. Neuman “What, me worry?” scenario, the overseers were blithely looking the other way while modern day robber baron bankers and corporate CEOs raked in multimillion- or billion-dollar salaries/bonuses/perks from houses of cards that, in one horrible fell swoop, came crashing down, creating a worldwide financial crisis and leaving the government/taxpayers to pick up the pieces.

After the excesses and failures of the last eight years, the public’s expectations for the new administration are going to be extremely high. We want something done to straighten out this mess we’re in, and we want it NOW!

Alas, there are no quick and easy fixes. It will take time, and some strong medicine. It likely will be painful. We can only hope those soon to be in charge can administer a cure.

email: hbrandon@farmpress.com