Nina A. Mendelson[*]
The United States’s presidential transition period is too long. Between November 7, 2008, and January 20, 2009, the media quickly identified a “‘leadership vacuum.’” In contrast to those of President-elect Obama, President Bush’s approval ratings were at historic lows. One reporter commented in late November, “The markets, at least, seem to be listening to one [P]resident—and he’s not the one in the Oval Office,” and another noted that “everyone . . . ignores the actions of the lame duck.”
Meanwhile, President-elect Obama was faced with numerous calls for immediate action on the nation’s pressing economic and national security concerns. A December cover of Time magazine blared, “Why Obama’s Presidency Has Already Begun . . .,” and Congressman Barney Frank commented, “‘[Obama] says we only have one president at a time. . . . I’m afraid that overstates the number of presidents we have. He’s got to remedy that situation.’”
Despite repeatedly stating that America has “‘only one [P]resident at a time,’” his care in asserting no formal power, and his avoidance of foreign affairs issues, Obama prior to inauguration acted in many ways as if he were President. On economic matters, he made announcements regarding his own massive economic stimulus plan, held bipartisan meetings with members of Congress, and called for congressional action on economic stimulus measures. He described the type of climate change legislation he would endorse upon taking office. Obama also encouraged President Bush to offer financial assistance to the automobile industry, and it is possible that his statements may have influenced Bush to actually do so—just as with his urgings regarding bailout funds to the financial industry. In response to questions about his “much higher profile,” Obama publicly commented in November on the importance of the American people knowing that “‘their new [P]resident has a plan and is going to act swiftly and boldly’ . . . .” In short, Obama’s preinaugural statements appear to have influenced both government decisionmakers and the general public.