Our Condolences to the Winner


Los Angeles Times

November 2, 2004

Congratulations to today's winner, whoever he may be. You get to be president for the next four years. Bigger congratulations to the loser: At least you don't have to be president for the next four years. Seen as part of a strategy for your party's victory in 2008, your decision to lose today's election may have been a brilliant stroke.

For all the talk about the fundamental disagreements between this year's candidates, there are important issues on which both talked nonsense or neither talked much at all. But in the next four years they will be unavoidable. Mr. President, or Mr. President-elect: You can run but you can't hide.

Iraq: You say you didn't hear a real plan from either candidate to calm Iraq and get U.S. troops out? That's partly because every step depends on the success of a previous step. An attempt to take the city of Fallouja from insurgents has been delayed until after the election, but its success remains a prerequisite to Iraq's own elections. If the insurgents are pushed back enough for the elections to be credible, it's possible that more nations will be willing to step in. But if the United Nations holds back, Muslim nations won't send troops, a necessity for successful peacekeeping. The ifs, compounded, make for odds no president could like.

The deficit: Both President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry declared, on tenuous evidence, that they could halve federal deficits by 2008. What they glossed over was that current deficits are nothing compared with financing the future of Medicare and Medicaid, and to a lesser extent Social Security. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the prescription drug benefit measure passed last year, lacking controls on drug prices, may bloat from an originally projected $400-billion cost over 10 years to $1 trillion. And if costs aren't brought under control, total federal spending on Medicare and Medicaid could mushroom from 3.9% of gross domestic product in 2003 to 21% in 2050. By comparison, the annual deficit causing such worry today is 3.6% of GDP. The longer the next president waits to tell the truth, the worse the eventual pain will be.

Immigration: The president will find specifics harder to come by than stump-speech generalizations about the value of immigrants. If the next reform is mostly a guest-worker program, what about the 8 million to 10 million people already here illegally? If there's going to be an "earned legalization" path, what of the government's vow, in the 1996 immigration bill, to never have another mass legalization program? And who's going to keep an eye on more than 100,000 temporary workers to make sure they go home when their contracts are up?

Energy: High demand for oil and supply disruptions in key producing countries may keep oil in the range of $50 to $60 per barrel, curbing global economic growth. A GOP-controlled Congress couldn't write, much less pass, responsible energy legislation. The administration's secret consultations with the energy industry actually increased dependence on foreign oil. Even if Kerry could come through on conservation, then what?

There are other big issues — healthcare, for example, and the environment, and jobs — that the new or renewed president will face. But these at least lend themselves to some incremental solutions. The ones above require bigger thinking and bold, painful solutions. Whoever you are, we're confident you have it in you.