THE BLOG

Present and Future Present

02/06/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Bob Franken Syndicated columnist. Appears on MSNBC and is a member of SPJ Washington Hall of Fame

I usually love this time of year. The incessant yuletide songs that have been torturing us since Halloween are replaced again with the violent, misogynistic lyrics of regular music.

Santa is almost as distant a memory as George W. Bush is about to be. Except...

It's different now. This year, merchants threaten to continue their post-holiday sales until someone actually comes into their stores and buys something.

The few who did get presents fall into two categories: Some returned them, the others saved them for re-gifting.

As for George W. Bush, the consequences of his policies will also be "the gifts that keep on giving"...for decades.

It'll take at least that long to reclaim our strip mined economy, and force those who ripped off the nation's wealth and spirit to be regulated by the most fundamental rules of common sense and decency.

It'll be a struggle to make them change their evil ways at all, since they can continue to use a tiny fraction of their ill-gotten gains to paralyze the political process.

By showering their money around, they've been able to make Pennsylvania Avenue their own personal "Green Zone". They're not going to give that up without a well-financed fight.

By the way, it's not just the Republicans who have dug us into such a hole. Many of the new people President-elect Obama is nominating to fix the economy are among those responsible for breaking it.

To be sure, this is a bipartisan group that flits back and forth between lucrative gigs at investment banks and resume-building in government.

They are creative, as evidenced by the exotic financial instruments they've designed, which are beyond the comprehension of us riffraff.

Their ideas continue to puzzle me. As I understand it, we will get the trillions needed for the stimulus packages by borrowing. Then, down the road, we will pay back those loans with interest. Where will we get that money? With new borrowing, of course. In other words, investors will get their returns from funds from new investors.

Can someone please help me understand how this is different from a Ponzi scheme? Maybe, instead of the current Obama lineup we should simply make Bernie Madoff the Treasury Secretary.

After all, desperate times do call for desperate measures. We may not yet have sunk to the depths of another Great Depression, but it's sad enough, and this time we can't rely on a war to pull us out. We already have a couple those going on. Thanks to the people who ran our military, we certainly don't have enough forces for still another one, or even these two... not with an all-volunteer military.

For the"half-full" crowd that provides drop of hope. President Obama will have no choice but to extract forces from the Iraq debacle. They're needed to deal with the Afghanistan/Pakistan debacle.

There is one other glimmer: It looks like the people the new President is placing into key national security and defense positions are not incompetent, blustering ideologues. That qualifies as an improvement.

Nothing is worse than the certainty of a blithering idiot... particularly one who is in the pocket of a special interest. We can only hope the new team will not be so consumed by the same insidious combination of hubris and fealty to narrow-minded constituencies. Only if they avoid that, will we see "change we can believe in".

We'll have to pay close attention. As we're finding out with the abrupt withdrawal of Bill Richardson from consideration as Commerce Secretary, to say nothing of the Gov. Blagojevich circus, the seamy side of politics is ever-present, ready to sabotage the most idealistic ambitions.

For now though, we should hold down our expectations. At the beginning we'll need to forget about moving forward with major reform. The first job will be to stop sinking. The present from the outgoing group is a scary future.

As for George W. Bush, he got his own memorable gift this season: A pair of shoes. Chances are that when history judges his time in office he probably will not be able to duck responsibility for the mess he left behind.