It occurred to me this evening that if the Obama presidency fails, there's a very good chance that the next president will be neither a Democrat nor a Republican.
Now, this isn't to say that, 44 months before the next presidential election, we have the faintest idea about how Obama will fare. But I don't think that Matt Miller is wrong to assert that Obama's program and priorities, expressed most clearly (because, unlike the stimulus, it wasn't an emergency response) in last week's budget announcement, represent a profound ideological shift back toward assertive and proactive ("big") government. Nor do I believe E.J. Dionne to be incorrect when he writes that Obama's ambitious agenda carries the fate of American liberalism--which after all is getting its first real trial after 40 years of sitting on the shelf. If he succeeds--if decent growth returns by 2011-2012, a much larger percentage of the population has health coverage, and the country is on a firmer path toward environmental sustainability--then it's very likely that the Democrats, particularly their more liberal adherents, will be in the political driver's seat for a long while to come.
So we can hope, anyway. But if Obama's policies fail? Is the country really going to turn back to a Republican Party now unmistakably led if not defined by Rush Limbaugh, purveyor of Happy Meal Conservatism (and, it seems, conspicuous consumer of Happy Meals)? Unless the Republicans actually figure out how to transplant Newt Gingrich's brain into Sarah Palin's body, they'll have to take one, the other, the painfully unready Bobby Jindal (whose big problem is actually not his delivery--that will improve--but the fact that he'd be running for re-election in Louisiana and for the presidency at the same time in 2011), the intolerably dickish Mitt Romney ("winner" of a plurality in the straw poll at this past weekend's confab of right-wing junketeers), or some other loser who will have to kiss Rush's ring. Add that it'll be just four years after Bush--not enough time to forget that his policies dropped us into this hole, nor to mistake that his would-be successor will be pushing more of same--and I find it very hard to imagine a Republican winning.
No, we'll see a Savior Type--a businessman, most likely, who will blast Obama for his discredited faith in Big Gummit and lack of managerial acumen yet reject the Republicans for their cronyism, stale ideas, and fealty to social reaction. If not a businessman, then a general; I wouldn't be shocked to see an independent ticket emerge featuring one of each. Maybe this is why Mayor Bloomberg really wants a third term: 2008 wasn't his moment, but it's not at all implausible to think that 2012 could be.