The next president will inherit the leadership of a country beset with extraordinary domestic and foreign problems, the solution of which will determine his place in history and his chances for re-election.
The Wall Street implosion has reduced the standard of living for millions of Americans, stifled business activity, dramatically increased unemployment and threatened the value of the dollar.
The Bush administration will have spent at least $1 trillion by inauguration day to rescue the US banking system from the first stage of the emergency. Will there be sufficient funds available to finance the campaign promises on health care, infrastructure, military, education, etc. without running the risk of runaway inflation?
The next president must also resolve the unpopular wars in the Middle East and Central Asia. US troops have been fighting and dying in Afghanistan since 2001, in Iraq since 2003, in Pakistan since 2007 at great cost in blood and treasure. These military engagements cannot continue indefinitely.
The next president may have four years to end these crises, perhaps less, certainly not more. The next election will be congressional and the president had better show serious progress on these issues else his party will suffer at the polls. Then he himself will run for re-election with no chance if the situations are not dramatically improved.
Mount Rushmore will be the reward for success but the choices and the tools available to the next president are limited. New presidents usually have political honeymoons but the next president may have the shortest honeymoon in history.