The Obama Presidential Transition: An Early Assessment

By Burke, John P. | Presidential Studies Quarterly, September 2009 | Go to article overview

The Obama Presidential Transition: An Early Assessment


Burke, John P., Presidential Studies Quarterly


The seventy-six days between election day, November 4, 2008, and inauguration day, January 20, 2009, once again demonstrated the significance of the transition period to an ensuing presidency. For the Obama presidency, the transition was especially important given the uncertain environment in which he entered office: the first president-elect since Richard M. Nixon to take office in wartime, as well as the first incoming president since Franklin D. Roosevelt to face the gravest of economic difficulties. Economic conditions were particularly notable in the cloud they ominously cast on his presidency: banking and auto industries on the verge of collapse, a stock market in its most significant retreat since the 1930s, skyrocketing federal deficits, and an economy in the midst of what is likely to be the deepest recession in the post-World War II era.

At the same time, Obama's political position was reasonably favorable. He garnered a healthy majority of the popular (52.9%) and electoral vote (365). The popular vote was a more propitious result than the pluralities of John F. Kennedy in 1960 (49.7%), Nixon in 1968 (43.4%), Bill Clinton in 1992 (43%), and, of course, the popular vote loss of George W. Bush in 2000 (47.9%). It was above the bare majority that Jimmy Carter won in 1976 (50.1%) and only slightly behind George H. W. Bush in 1988 (53.4%). The electoral vote was also significant: above Kennedy (303), Nixon (301), Carter (297), and G. W. Bush (271), and only slightly less than Clinton (370). Yet Obama's victory was hardly of record-making proportions. He was well below the margins of FDR in 1932, Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952, and Ronald Reagan in 1980. (1) However, like all of the last three, his accession to office followed that of an unpopular incumbent. His campaign themes of "hope" and "change" resonated with an uncertain public. But would the difficult context of his transition and early presidency yield an effective policy response?

A Successful--and Ambitious--Pre-Election Effort

Since Jimmy Carter's transition in 1976, presidential candidates have made significant efforts before election day in planning for a possible presidency. For Carter, work began shortly after it was clear that he would be the Democratic Party's nominee following the Pennsylvania primary in April. For Reagan, tentative steps were taken late in 1979 and a formal effort began in the spring of 1980, once Reagan's nomination was secured. For G. H. W. Bush, discussions began in late 1987, and, like his two predecessors, serious work commenced once his nomination was clear. For Clinton, planning began right after the July 1992 Democratic National Convention. G. W. Bush chose to start much earlier: the spring of 1999, the earliest effort to date.

Obama and his associates, especially former Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD) and former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta, followed the 1992 pattern and waited until the summer of 2008 to begin the major part of their work. Some reports even indicated that they were well under way by that point. As Paul Light (2009) notes, "The Obama team ... started writing briefing memos long before Obama announced his planning effort last July. Indeed, the outline of the transition's soon-to-be-published book of transition essays was set last April." More generally, according to another account, "Obama got an early jump on his transition planning last spring, turning discreetly to Washington veterans and survivors of the Clinton years for advice on how best to launch his administration" should he win (Simendinger 2008, 71; also see Sweet 2008). According to Podesta, Obama "understood that in order to be successful he had to be ready. And he had to be ready fast" (Tumulty 2008, 27).

Podesta was tapped to direct the operation, and by all accounts, he proved to be an effective choice. (2) He was knowledgeable about White House and personnel matters, had directed the outgoing Clinton transition in 2000, and understood Congress and the ways of Washington. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Obama Presidential Transition: An Early Assessment
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.