The Independent today re-published a very remarkable leader column that first appeared on the eve of Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1993. I couldn't find it on their website to link to, so I hope they won't mind too much if I quote it.
Lucky Americans! After the 12 years of the Reagan-Bush Republican era, tomorrow's inauguration of Bill Clinton gives the United States one of those fresh starts that democratic systems desperately need - and for which human nature craves. On this side of the Atlantic we may be forgiven a powerful twinge of envy for the cleansing of the Augean stables that is taking place across the water.
In Britain, after nearly 14 years of the Thatcher-Major era, there is something of the same sense of public disenchantment with the nation's leadership that led to George Bush's defeat. But we have had no similar change since 1979, and no relief is in prospect, apart from an upturn in the economy. We are sentenced to four more years of the same, with the government showing all the signs of tiredness, insensitivity to the public mood and proneness to lapses of morality to which long tenure leads; and the prospect offered by the current Opposition lifts few spirits.
Mr Clinton will have great difficulty in fulfilling the high hopes placed in him. His gifts include great energy, determination and staying power allied to formidable intelligence and (not always a concomitant) a great willingness to learn. But his ability to make difficult decisions and choices has yet to be tested. Ruthless he undoubtedly can be, but no-one knows whether he will deploy that attribute against the right people and interest groups as they crowd in upon him. Vested interests are well represented in his cabinet, of whose 18 members 13, including himself, are lawyers.
As I said, a most remarkable, perceptive piece. With just a few changes of name it could have been written today, which I assume is why the Indy decided to re-run it. It's difficult, in retrospect, to connect the Bill Clinton who inspired such great hopes with the vacuous sitcom the Clinton White House became. And the Major government, which so bored and depressed the leader-writer, looks with more than twelve years' hindsight to have been positively benign (as, indeed, does the presidency of the first George Bush). If you had a time machine you'd want to advise whoever wrote this not to get their hopes up, to be more realistic. And also to realise that the Major and Bush governments of the early 1990s were not, in fact, quite so bad as they seemed.
All - or almost all - administrations begin in hope and end in disillusion. High expectations are rarely fulfilled to everyone's satisfaction. Even low expectations - such as attended the advent of George W Bush - can prove to have been dismayingly optimistic. The opening sentence, however, expresses most Britons' thoughts this weekend as well, or better, than it did eighteen long years ago. Lucky Americans!