Saturday, October 25, 2008

Presidential Transitions & the Arc of History

Presidencies begin in strange places. Some people look in a mirror and admire a future president others believe some Deity gave them a Divine Right while more knew enough to take advantage of the right time with favorable circumstances. All eventually come to the judgment of scholars who mine or dumpster dive in multi-million dollar library archives for scraps of obscure papers, have a command of the bald facts underneath the lipsticked pretty version and are far more fearful of the wrath of their peers than some former president, usually long dead. The presidency that still causes the most fights, yet sells the most books is Abraham Lincoln. Honest Abe laid down some lessons that stay true while modern presidencies understand their term in office begins as the Obamarella clock strikes 12 on election night while people set up his outdoor stadium today.
This will be the first wartime presidential transition in 40 years and the first in the age of terrorism anxieties after Sept. 11, 2001. Government planners worry about a window of vulnerability in the first days and months of a new presidency when thousands of administration jobs have not been filled yet and a newly elected Congress is just settling in.

"Don't worry about jinxing the campaign or being too presumptuous," urges White House transition expert Clay Johnson, who says post-election planning should have been under way for months. "It is irresponsible for anybody who could be president not to prepare to govern effectively from day one."

The country — and the world — will be watching.
Tuesday, 4 November, will see a historic fanfare and a mandate not seen in decades as Barack Obama streaks to the finish line clutching the title of president-elect. John McCain will be a grumpy bestselling author that brings a rout for the second time for an Arizona Senator. Historians will start loading up on all of the newspapers as they will be the first draft of history. As soon as excitable news anchors shriek the winner in southern states like Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia on election night at 5PM PDT the presidency will have started in earnest. Paging Cassandra Butts, come out into the open now. She has been the sub rosa leader of the secret Obama transition team that has 77 days to get it all together.

Presidential campaigns rate their own bookshelf. There is much about the Obama Campaign of energetic septuagenarian and barely twenty one year old volunteers, the vaunted ground game, polls and GOTV that will fascinate campaign scholars and political junkies for Ages. But who the president is will be foreshadowed as the transition heats up. Tens of thousands of political supporters will call and seek demand jobs in the new administration for less than 8000 appointed jobs of which the senate must confirm 1,177. But the roles that will capture the history writers and watchers are the appointments that get announced with a press conference involving the president-elect. It will be a display of judiciousness to see who lands what role. Question will revolve around organizational design and if it appears ad hoc, rewards cronies or does it have an overarching purpose that reflects the president's agenda. The press will race off to seek dirt on the nominees and the senators will grumble they are being rushed to confirm so many while they are planning the inauguration and their holiday. But the time of testing will have commenced.

There will be $8.5 million worth of high tech office space to handle a cast of thousands and a discreet place to hide the budget wars. There is a new A much noted meeting of the president and president elect. The future first lady will get a tour that will make her gulp from the current first lady as her brain plays toss with educational choices for the kids. Speaking of the kids, cough up the dog quickly please Michelle & Barack, Sasha & Malia will not have as many friends as they do in Chicago! Will the kids bedrooms be on the third official floor with Mom & Dad or will they want to be up near the solarium?
Who will be the Poet Laureate needs a check the box decision and what other themes will be stressed in advance. The transition means every aspect of the president-elects life gets turned upside down while tough decisions need to be made that will disappoint many supporters as some may not get the coveted job but a lesser role or none at all. Others may find their full access suddenly restricted as the campaign detritus is shunted aside for the seasoned political professionals. Will Obama succumb to micromanaging or will he rise above it with a first class chief of Staff who jealously guards the gates or will it be a more time consuming consensus collaborative effort.

Speech writers will be intravenously sucking those blasted energy drinks as they yell at all the policy shops to get it together for the inaugural address. People will have to know who gets to sign off on what sections and they are not even in the White House yet. The sense of urgency will amp up as all realize OMG, simultaneously we have to work on the president's very first State of the Union address which is due the following week. Meanwhile everyday an obscure highly secretive person from the Director of National Intelligence or Langley will visit the president elect, briefing him on all of the ongoing & latest intelligence and black ops. With two wars, there will be a majority of time given to setting the national security operation up to ensure continuity and a new direction. The whole Homeland Security portfolio is ripe for a reorg.

A new White House scheduler will turn up along with protocol specialists who will explain the world's interest in the new president. This will be expressed separately from an inundated
communications operation as they see an avalanche of requests for press credentials because of the historic nature of events. The scheduler will separate out the need to plan inaugural activities, look at time to interview candidates and future major ambassadors, and sort calls from heads of state rushing to be Nation/Monarchy Number 1 to be the first State Dinner recipient and getting a portrait taken that goes into every federal outpost. An official representative from the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies will have something to say or a question to ask every single day. They will be listened to as $19,000,000 was set aside by Congress for transition purposes. The complicated schedule will also need time to understand the complexity of the football - the briefcase with the codes to the US nuclear arsenal. The Secret Service will sit the Obamas down collectively and individually to say here are the new and improved security rules you will have as a head of state. Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs wants money and more troops as the Secretary of the Treasury says nyet and here is what we must do on the domestic front to forestall a Depression era economy. Lurking in the background are all those sparkly campaign promises which the public, the press and the president-elect's political enemies will remember and recite.

The policy shop needs clear lines of authority. Historians will be watching with eagle eyes to see how the transition is managed and what it bodes for the nation. That's important because each network will load up on Pulitzer Prize winning authors and Nobel Laureates to discuss the decision making of the transition and what it means during the nonstop coverage of the inauguration. Michelle's hat, should she choose to wear one will be an intense topic of discussion for a panel of milliners as if they were discussing when will President Obama get us out of the Iraq debacle. Next comes lots of gray hairs for Obama as he gets on the 44th roller coaster ride as soon as he knows he has 270 electoral college votes, not on Tuesday, the 20th of January at one minute before noon because the historians are already deep into all of the notes and clues you gave while setting up shop.
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
The second book Barack Obama said he would take into the Oval office first day is from Doris Kearns Goodwin look at Abraham Lincoln's ability to get his thoughts together as he took the train east from Springfield Illinois to his inaugural. Lincoln invited prior bitter competitors into his presidential orbit and used his gifts to manage the clash of personalities. Barack Obama wants the extraordinary book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln as a template.

This is part of The Transition Series to the presidency of Barack Obama
(please not the posts at the link above are stored by date)

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