Obama's unusual transition: Already a co-president
Bush and first lady Laura Bush, welcome President-elect Obama and his
wife Michelle Obama to the White House in Washington, Monday, Nov.
10,2008. (AP Photo/The Washington Times, Mary F. Calvert) | View larger image By David Lightman | McClatchy Newspapers
— America has never seen anything quite like this: The president and
president-elect acting like co-presidents, consulting and cooperating
on the day's biggest crises.
"It's pretty unusual," said
George Edwards, a presidential expert at Texas A&M University, in
Princeton University professor Julian Zelizer calls "the split-screen
presidency" is the result of several historic forces converging this
- The 24-7 nature of the global economy, which demands timely reaction.
- Incoming and outgoing presidents who have personal and political reasons to show that they can manage a crisis.
president-elect, Barack Obama, who "believes in strong government and
wants to get things under way immediately," said William Leuchtenburg,
a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill professor who's written
extensively about the presidency.
- A lame-duck president,
George W. Bush, who's leaving office voluntarily. "Bush was not
defeated. That makes for an easier relationship," Leutchtenburg said.
This transition lacks the formality — and the coolness — of the last two
transfers of power that occurred during tough economic times, the
1980-81 change from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan and the 1993 end of
George H.W. Bush's term as Bill Clinton took office. Both new
presidents then had defeated the former ones.Monday gave a vivid illustration of the comity that's characterized the Bush-Obama minuet.Bush
had a cup of coffee in midmorning with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson
to discuss the government's decision Sunday to help ailing banking
giant Citigroup. Later, on the steps of the Treasury building, next
door to the White House, Bush assured the nation that Washington was
ready to take similar action to help other financial institutions.His
statement took only two minutes, but it included this paean to his
successor: "I talked to Obama about the decision we made. I told the
American people, and I told the president-elect when I first met him,
that anytime we were to make a big decision during this transition, he
will be informed, as will his team."About an hour and a half
later, Obama unveiled his economic team at a Chicago news conference
and mentioned that he'd spoken to Bush and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben
Bernanke earlier Monday.It's not unusual for presidents and
successors to talk and consult each other, particularly about crises,
though the shared spotlight this time takes that to a whole new level.
In December 1992, the George H.W. Bush White House briefed CIinton on
its plan to send American troops on a humanitarian mission to Somalia,
and the president-elect issued a statement commending Bush for his
"leadership." That's more typical.The troop presence would prove
to be an embarrassment for the Clinton White House in 1993. After 18
U.S. Army Rangers were killed and soldiers were dragged through the
streets of Mogadishu, Clinton began a troop pullout; all U.S. forces
were out by 1995. Osama bin Laden later said that the U.S. withdrawal
encouraged his al Qaida forces to plan new attacks.Some
transitions have been downright icy. After the 1932 election, as
America continued to reel from the Great Depression, incumbent Herbert
Hoover tried last-ditch initiatives but incoming President Franklin
Roosevelt refused to cooperate.Roosevelt wouldn't even make
public statements. "There was one time when reporters tried to ask him
questions," Leuchtenburg said. "He smiled and held his index finger to
his lips."That would hardly work today, not with 24-hour cable
news channels, Internet videos and markets gyrating on the slightest
hint of news. When the media began suggesting last Friday that Obama
had picked New York Federal Reserve Bank President Timothy Geithner as
treasury secretary, the Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped nearly 500
points, or 6.5 percent."People feel a need for immediate action," Edwards said.
"In the past, you could usually wait."Obama, analysts argue, needs to appear
in control not only to reassure markets but also to establish his credibility.
The former Illinois U.S. senator has no record of economic management and
was barely known outside his
home state until he ran for president."It's not unusual for the
president-elect to have news conferences, but in an economic crisis,
it's particularly important that you give people confidence," Edwards
said.Bush has his own motivations."To a large degree,
Bush's legacy is in the hands of Barack Obama," said Tim Blessing, the
director of the presidential performance study at Alvernia University
in Reading, Pa. The more they're seen working together, the more Bush
could get some credit for any Obama successes next year.http://www.mcclatchydc.com/homepage/story/56399.html