Expecting the Worst, Hoping For the Best
Upon the king! let us our lives, our souls,
Our debts, our careful wives,
Our children, and our sins lay on the king!
Henry V, IV.iii.116-118
I expect to be disappointed by the next president. This expectation does not detract from my admiration for him or my good wishes for his administration.
It is impossible for office-holders, especially presidents, to live up to the hopes and expectations that are raised about them. For one thing, presidential elections are so highly symbolic that they inevitably embody more ideas and aspirations than can rationally be instantiated in practical political terms. Obama, for example, stands for "change," an abstract concept whose real-world permutations are different for nearly every person who thinks about it. If he fulfills my fantasy of "change," then he probably disappoints yours.
Secondly, most of what presidents accomplish is accomplished through the cooperation of others, especially members of Congress, state governors, the heads of independent agencies such as the Federal Reserve, and those who control large business enterprises. Each of these persons has his or her own agenda, and very few of them will agree 100% with everything the president wants to do. Members of the House of Representatives, in particular, must run for office biennially, and their constituents are most concerned with what the Representative did for his/her own district in particular. This is why the complaints against "pork-barrel spending" ring so hollowly -- a member of Congress has to bring back some federal assistance to the district, or s/he won't be reelected. Consequently, even a president who embodied my political ideals completely would inevitably disappoint me, because he'd be realistically unable to make those ideals a reality.
Thirdly, there are limits to how much a government can do in any particular area. At this moment in history most citizens put the economy at the top of their political agenda. But how much effect on an economy does the federal government really have? Certainly the Federal Reserve can alter its monetary policy, certainly the government can create new programs or alter regulations, but I am skeptical that these things have much overall influence on the economy.
Fourthly, the things that move me politically -- social issues around race/sex/sexuality, prevention of theocracy and, in recent years, the elimination of carbon-based fuels and the dissolution of the shackles to creativity that are now called "copyright" -- are not the things that move most voters. It is unlikely that there will ever be a president who agrees with me on all, or even most, of those issues. It's hard even to find senators and representatives to agree with me. So I can't expect my hopes to be fulfilled by this president or any.
Finally, public officials are human beings, with frailties like the rest of us. There is a popular desire either to deify or to demonize our leaders -- to think of them either as perfect or as monsters. Perhaps they do not all display their weaknesses as flamboyantly as Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton did, but those weaknesses are there and will, inevitably, be revealed. And even those characteristics that are virtues under one set of circumstances may turn out to be vulnerabilities under others. For example, Barack Obama is praised for his coolness and deliberation, his ability to think rationally in emotionally charged circumstances; this is a virtue in many, maybe most, situations. But the day may come where this feature of his personality works against him, rather than for him.
There was never a president who didn't disappoint me, nor a governor, nor any other prominent leader. I don't think it's possible to avoid disappointment. But I do think that it's possible to hope for the best, to work to make the next steps whatever they are, as successful and beneficial as possible.
"Pessimist by policy, optimist by temperament." Robert Heinlein (with whom I shared no political views at all) once said that, and it still seems like good advice.