ObamaYes, he’s smart. Yes, he’s charismatic. Yes, he’s a unifier more than a divider. Yes, this is historic. Yes, this is – so far – very good for America. Yes, we have a renewed sense of optimism and we feel good as a nation.

No, he’s not brilliant. No, he isn’t infallible. No, we won’t suddenly be liked by everybody just because he’s president. No, he isn’t going to pay all our bills, put 5000 points on the Dow Jones, rebuild your businesses and give you a pay raise. No, he isn’t the Messiah.

These expectations are nuts. As Megan McArdle says:

Being a libertarian, I naturally think that people are too optimistic about the government. But there were people on CNN declaring that Obama was going to lower the price of gasoline and pay their mortgage if they couldn’t afford it, lower their tax bill and raise their wages, and presumably, make them taller, smarter, and get the chickweed out of their hair. I’m not exaggerating: there were voters who seemed to think that about three weeks after Obama took office, all their budget problems would be solved. Not that Obama would eventually make things better, or help them get past the rough spots; they were expecting an immediate influx of really quite a lot of money, as well as a rapid and permanent increase in base wages and housing prices.

I don’t recall Republicans engaging in this kind of magical thinking in 2000. They, too, seemed to have an unreasonable belief that George Bush was going to improve America a great deal (unreasonable even before 9/11), but as I recall, this was concentrated on intangibles like restoring honor to the white house, not putting an extra $3,000 in everyone’s pockets.

I was eighteen when Clinton was elected, and I don’t remember if this sort of thing is simply typical of Democratic victories. But the expectations I saw in those “man on the street interviews” were not fulfillable by any president–at least, not until Santa agrees to stand for election.

It’s interesting that she asks the question about whether this is typical of Democratic victories. Is this what happens when people whose answers tend to involve government (or more government) get the candidate of their dreams into office? If so, they’re destined to be very disappointed. Even Obama himself tried to suppress some of these bizarrely high expectations in his acceptance speech:

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America – I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. …. There are many who won’t agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government can’t solve every problem.

I’d like him to have said that government shouldn’t try to solve every problem. But that’s not Obama, and libertarians like me will have to deal with that.

Nevertheless, we do have a sense of optimism. I’m happy this week, and I believe Obama’s election was a wonderful step forward for America at this stage in history. Let’s hope first that Obama knows the limitations of government, and let’s hope second that those who believe he’s the Messiah aren’t too disappointed if he does.