More and more people today are coming to the realization that the US is in a bit of a pickle. There are countless articles about a looming "fiscal cliff" or another "financial crisis" from a wide range of pundits, economists and prognosticators. Candidates promise to fix things, but the solutions they offer generally don't target the real problems and targeting the wrong problem often makes things worse. Perhaps it would be helpful to look at how we got where we are in order to find the most rational and successful solutions for the future.
History tells us Presidents can't do much good even when they want to, but they can certainly do a lot of harm. So while part the blame for the problems we face may lie with a few "bad" presidents, the major fault lies with a consistently "bad" Congress, whose members have put their own self-interest over the interest of the country and future generations.
In 1845, Congress created their first subsidy. There was much debate about the constitutionality of such an action at the time, but in the end the temptation to meddle in the affairs of private industry was too great. After spending millions of taxpayer dollars subsidizing a steamship venture which failed in bankruptcy a dozen years later, Congress learned their lesson. It was decades before they subsidized another maritime venture! Of course, the subsidy cat was out of the bag and the taxpayer became an engine for malinvestment as Congress has made it their business to pick winners and losers from that day forward at the taxpayer's expense.
In 1887, Congress created the Interstate Commerce Commission, the very first agency or commission. Again there was debate about the constitutionality of the idea since the vesting clause says that Congress and only Congress is vested with the power of lawmaking. But the opportunity was too good to pass up. By turning over responsibility for lawmaking to agencies, Congress could claim they are not to blame for bad laws. In fact, they are correct. Agencies do not answer to Congress, to the President and certainly not to the people. They are only responsible to the statute that created them. Today, we are governed by over 700 agencies and commissions that we do not control. The only power Congress has is to eliminate the agencies they have created.
In 1912, progressive Republican Teddy Roosevelt lost the primary to conservative Republican incumbent Howard Taft. He ran anyway under the auspices of the Bull Moose Party, splitting the Republican ticket with Taft. In the end, progressive Democrat Woodrow Wilson was elected President along with a Democratic Congress. Wilson was the first genuine socialist to occupy the white house. Under his administration, we gained the income tax, the Federal Reserve and other socialist agenda items. The Federal reserve, as is noted elsewhere on this website, was a bargain between banking and government. Banks got bailouts and government got to spend money it didn't have.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, took us towards socialism and collectivism with his "New Deal" policies that prolonged the depression, doubled the Federal deficit, created many cumbersome regulations on business and left us with the now broke Social Security system. President Lyndon Johnson tried to divert attention from the Viet Nam War with his "Great Society" policies that left us with Medicaid, Medicare, Food Stamps, Federal Education spending and countless environmental and other big government policies. We could go on with Carter (Dept of Energy and Education), Bush (Homeland Security & Patriot Act, SOX, No Child Left Behind, sCHIP, prescription drugs for seniors and more) and Obama (bailouts, overspending and Obamacare which was snuck through by nefarious methods within the Senate). Each of these Presidents and the Congress that served with them believed government could form better solutions than the people. Each of their programs limited liberty and freedom in favor of "safety and security" and government control. History shows clear evidence of progress when governments get out of the way and the opposite when governments get involved. Time and again, people left to their own devices will develop better solutions than government. There is no historical evidence that any government has ever done anything better than the private sector. In fact, the preponderance of evidence points to the failure of socialist states, not their success. Government needs to stay out of the way for optimum progress. It's a little chaotic and unpredictable, but it works.
The United States rose from nothing to the most powerful nation in the world in 150 short years. We did so during a time when there was no government selection of winners and losers besides the free market, no agencies or commissions to separate the people from lawmaking, no income tax, no Federal Reserve to steal from the people by monetizing debt and no government redistribution of wealth. If we want to fix problems, it is in these places we need to find solutions.
That's a knowing answer to a dfifciult question