The Transition

So at this point we’ve got a pretty good understanding of who’s going to be surrounding President Obama. We know who his chief of staff will be, we know who will be holding most of the senior staff positions in the White House, and we know who will be heading the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Treasury, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services, as well as who most of his crucial advisers will be. And yet it will still be nearly two months before the new administration is actually in place. Does this really make sense to anyone?

In the current climate, the economic situation provides a really stark illustration of what havoc a lame duck government can run. Congress and the President are largely paralyzed by the ticking clock, and the fact that the new government will be quite different than this one, and so no one is willing to make much of a move. Meanwhile the economy isn’t on pause, and conditions can, and will, deteriorate the longer action is put off. That’s obviously not a good thing, but neither are the many more mundane things that go on in every transition period that may not get quite as much ink as an economic meltdown. Carrying out foreign policy, for example, is extremely difficult to do when the other players know that they’ll soon be dealing with a new President, one who may even have a radically different outlook than the preceding President. That’s not really something a state in our position can afford as a rule.

I understand the argument that some time must be set aside in order to facilitate the handing off of power, but is two and a half months really necessary? The election was less than a month ago, and Obama has already announced who will b holding almost all of his key administration positions. It’s entirely possible that he’s already decided who will be holding the others. And even if he hasn’t, there’s no reason he couldn’t if he was looking at a 3 week transition instead of a 3 month one. Indeed, I see no reason why the new President shouldn’t be expected to have an idea of who he’d like to appoint to various positions before he’s even elected. If a candidate can’t be bothered to give thought to that pre-election, do we really want to put them in office? And from a democratic perspective, there’s something to be said for the idea that having a slate of officials announced prior to elections would give voters a better sense of who they’d be voting for, and would be a much more populist-democratic reality. But from whatever angle you come at it from, it seems obvious to me that we simply can’t accept the sort of power vacuum and paralysis we’re seeing now, and we ought to address that by speeding up the transfer of governing power.