" /> Next president faces extraordinary challenges, Gergen says | Today at Elon | Elon University

Next president faces extraordinary challenges, Gergen says

Former presidential adviser and national political commentator David Gergen said the next presidency "is going to be the toughest we've seen in a long time," and said the three remaining candidates for the Oval Office all bring unique strengths to the race. Gergen's comments came April 29 during a breakfast to benefit the scholarship program at Elon University School of Law. Details...

Political commentator David Gergen talked about the upcoming presidential race during “Campaign ’08…and the Challenges Beyond” April 29 in Greensboro.
Gergen’s presentation to an audience of approximately 200 people at Starmount Country Club in Greensboro was titled “Campaign ’08…and the Challenges Beyond.” He said the next president will face challenges similar in scope to those Franklin Roosevelt tackled when he moved into the Oval Office in 1933.

“Many of these problems are going to be critical to the direction of this country,” said Gergen, who also chairs the law school advisory board. Effective leadership and the ability to change the status quo in the way America does business will be essential for the next president to succeed.

“I believe it is less important who wins the election, as whether who wins can lead, and lead in a significant way,” Gergen said.

Handling the war in Iraq and the growing tensions with Iran top the list of international problems facing the next president. “Iraq, frankly, is easier than Iran,” Gergen said. Iran’s dogged pursuit of a nuclear weapons program is going to require the incoming president to face “the toughest set of decisions since John F. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis,” Gergen said.

For either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, Iraq provides a special challenge should they win in November. “If you’re a Democrat and you win the election, you’ve got a problem on day one on Iraq, because you promised your voters we’re getting out.”

The economy also poses a problem. “The next president is going to inherit a heck of a lot of debt,” Gergen said, adding that the next administration will be under pressure to reform entitlement programs, something which has proven extraordinarily difficult to do from a political standpoint.

So who will win in November? “This is the most favorable landscape for the Democrats to win the White House in the last 25 years,” Gergen said. Until recently, he believed Obama had the nomination wrapped up, but says the flap over Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s comments continues to leave the door open for Clinton. Gergen also bemoaned the play and attention Wright’s comments have received.

“It is such a distraction, such a sideshow,” Gergen said. “I think Rev. Wright has zero to do with the future of this country. He is doing a terrible disservice to Barack Obama. I think the Democratic nomination is up for grabs in new ways.”

Gergen called John McCain “a man of great character—honor, duty, country are things that have great meaning in his life. But his policies ought to be debated, and debated seriously.” Gergen says all three candidates are “above-average,” and is pleased with the diversity they represent. “We ought to be proud of the fact that in winnowing the field, we have wound up with a former prisoner of war, a woman and an African-American. That speaks well of the country.”

Whoever wins the November election needs to be able to govern effectively, Gergen said. “The winner needs to understand that these are tough times, and we need to pull together.”