As presidential transitions go, this one has lasted about as long (11 weeks) as most. It just seems like it has lasted forever, kind of the way the last two months of school used to drag on before summer vacation finally arrived. (And why did that vacation period then always fly by like some kind of super-sonic jet?)
Any election of a new president (as opposed to the re-election of a sitting president) brings a sense of excitement, even optimism. This feeling is especially so when the new president is from the other party, since changes of party in the White House usually mean new policies, which the voters apparently wanted (otherwise, they would have kept the old president’s party in power).
But with all that said, this transition period has been marked by two very strong perceptions. The first is that it has lasted far too long, and the second is that in spite of dire economic conditions, hope and optimism abound.
Both of these perceptions are generated by the energy that Barack Obama has brought to his work. From the moment he secured his victory, he has been a study in preparation for the biggest job his country has to offer. Yes, he did take a holiday vacation, but even then the sense was that he was working on the plans he has for his administration.
Prior to and since that brief break, he was and has been all business. He picked his cabinet faster than any of his predecessors, he fashioned an economic recovery plan that he wants on his desk shortly after he takes office, and he has created a sense of confidence about himself that is inspiring, even in the face of a few slips and the inevitable glitches that were bound to occur.
And so, as the days of Bush finally dwindle down to a precious few, and as the ascendency of Obama is all but upon us, here’s a review of the actions taken so far by the new guy and what they may portend for his presidency.
The Cabinet – Say what you will, Obama has chosen an impressive group to administer the federal government. All have solid resumes and obvious talent. The questions are whether he has chosen the right people for the right jobs and whether they reflect his intentions regarding the directions he wants to pursue.
Obama says he wanted the best people he could find for each position and that he will set the policies he expects them to carry out. But some appointees (Tim Geithner for Treasury, Larry Summers for Economic Council, Robert Gates to continue in Defense, for example) seem to represent the policies of the past, leading liberals to wonder just how liberal Obama really is.
Others (Hillary Clinton for State, Leon Panetta for CIA, Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff) may have great talent but be ill-suited for the specific assignments they’ve been given.
Obama sloughs off these concerns with an air of confidence that suggests he knows what he’s doing, and to this point, the country (as indicated by the editorial page, OpEd and blog coverage he is getting) is giving him a lot of latitude. Chalk it up to that sense of hope and optimism he has generated.
The Economic Crisis – Obama has tackled the current crisis like he owns it. In this area, he has upstaged the current president in both energy and intellect. His stimulus plan may be too timid (as Nobel Prize recipient Paul Krugman has been shouting for weeks), but it is impressive if for no other reason than that it far exceeds anything Mr. Bush and his team have put forth.
Obama is intent on building bi-partisan support for his plan, and he is likely to get upwards of 80 Senate votes for it, which will certainly reflect Republican and Democratic ownership of it.
He is also, of late, urging release of the remaining TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) funds, which, coupled with his $800 billion plan will make $1.15 trillion in deficit spending he will create in his first 100 days in office.
That kind of ambitious plan will either kill the patient or cure it. Again, though, the energy and the focused commitment are drawing praise, even if the specifics raise eyebrows.
Foreign Policy – Here Obama has been far more low-key in his public acts and statements. “We only have one president at a time,” is too logical to be a cop-out, and the sense is that the President-elect is just biding his time, not wanting to send contrary signals to the world community while the country is still led (ostensibly, at least) by Mr. Bush.
Still, world crises will be waiting for him. If he’s lucky Israel’s assault on Gaza will have been resolved by then, but the scene will be hot nonetheless, as will the unrest in India and Pakistan and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, just to name a few areas that will demand his immediate attention.
Damage Control – He lost his Commerce secretary before he even appeared for his Senate hearing. His choice of a minister to deliver the invocation at his inauguration enraged a key constituency group. His Senate seat may have been offered for sale by his state’s governor, who has now been impeached. All of these events have been potential land mines, but Obama has eluded their impact.
Mainly he has done so by exuding a cool confidence that suggests he has no reason to be defensive and has nothing to hide. He just seems to be above the fray, and to this point, the press and the public seem content to let him stay there.
And so the record for this President-elect during this seemingly interminable period of transition has been good. If he gets an incomplete in some areas, it is only because he hasn’t been tested in them yet. As for the rest, he gets an A for his effort, an A for his optimism, and an A for the hope he inspires.
As he likes to say, “Yes, we can.”