Balkinization  

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"Fasttracking the New President"

Sandy Levinson

An op-ed in today's Boston Globe, entitled "Fast track the new president" by a professor and research associate at the Harvard Business School advocates that Obama (or McCain) quickly move into the White House via the 25th Amendment route of a Cheney resignation, the appointment and confirmation of the president-elect (which any sentient being will know on November 5 even without having to wait around for the convening of electors in December unless there is indeed a tie or it's close enough to have a rerun of Florida in 2000, both extraordinarily unlikely events according to every single poll, see, e.g., 538.com). The op-ed begins as follows:

THE NEXT PRESIDENT will be elected on Nov. 4, but will not take office until Jan. 20. Normally, this lag time is not an issue. But with the financial system in meltdown, the "real" economy threatening to follow, and a feckless, lame-duck administration unable to lead, this yawning interval is a problem. If history is any guide, a very big problem.

Consider the election of 1932, perhaps the closest historical analogy to our current situation. The Great Depression was already in full swing when Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected on Nov. 8 to succeed Herbert Hoover. Unfortunately, things went from bad to worse in the four months between Roosevelt's election and inauguration. (At that time, the new president didn't take office until March 4.) During those dreadful days, the index of industrial production dropped to an all-time low. The unemployment rate soared to an all-time high. Twenty-three states intervened in their banking systems with unprecedented force. By the time Roosevelt took office, numerous banks had been closed or placed under increased state regulation. On Inauguration Day itself, New York Governor Herbert H. Lehman declared a two-day bank holiday.

Meanwhile, the federal government was paralyzed. Hoover and Roosevelt could not agree on a joint course of action. The economy continued its historic plunge, and ever more Americans lost not only their incomes but their hope. However, bold responses such as a national banking holiday - not to mention the psychological boost of an inspiring new leader declaring that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" - would have to wait for March.


January 20 is obviously not so far off as March 4, but the only reason that Inauguration Day is now in January was the wisdom of those who realized that the Constitution was defective and supported the 20th Amendment, which moved up Inauguration Day and, just as importantly, the start of the new Congress to the beginning of January, correcting another truly lunatic feature of the original Constitution. We, however, are totally mired in complacence. I wonder if those who disagree with me would have opposed the 20th Amendment, which, after all, changed very important features of our original Constitution (and if they would have attacked the motives of anyone who did support the 20th Amendment).



Comments:

That case of Kool-aid you sent to the Globe seems to be working.
 

Even though I don't think the economy is your real concern in advocating a quick succession (I think it is military interventions and pardons), the nightmare scenario with respect to economic policy is just not credible here.

The president-elect is overwhelmingly likely, during the "interregnum," to play an integral role in formulating any additional economic emergency initiatives.
 

I'm not at all clear why pinkerd believes that the president elect will play "an integral role in formulating any additional economic emergency initiatives" if his "emergency initiatives" would differ substantially from those preferred by Mr. Bush and his compatriots. From my perspective, this is just one more example of wishful thinking that allows us to avoid the fact that our Constitution is radically defective at this very moment in providing the institutional basis for effective leadership and decisionmaking.

And why doesn't he think that the economy is my "real concern"? I am 67 and have every reason to be conerned about the stability of my retirement options, etc.

With regard to texas in wisconsin's smarmy comment--he/she seems incapable of making any other kind of intervention--I neither know the people at the Harvard Business School who wrote the op-ed nor communicated with anyone at the Globe. Perhaps they are all capable of thinking for themselves.
 

I do not see than analogy.

Hoover and FDR disagreed with one another on recovery plans.

In contrast, Obama has offered no plan, was not engaged in the least developing one when the issue was before Congress and routinely agrees with whatever Paulson/Benanke suggest as he did yesterday with the Bank stock purchase plan.

Given that Obama is completely unprepared to offer his own solution and will agree with whatever Bush implements, what is the hurry to install Obama in office IF he wins the election.
 

Sandy,

Do you think just maybe, possibly that the reason many of us on the right are skeptical about this is the fact that this is being proposed for the first time in history by a bunch of (sorry to be smarmy!) lefty college professors at the exact moment when it looks like a lefty president is about to take over and just possibly we think this is to gain partisan advantage? If you want to make your proposal, make it, but in fairness it should not take effect until the next election, by bringing it up at this point it will logically be seen as just partisan grasping. And yes, I know you've advocated this for some time, but to have any credibility you can't expect this to be floated three weeks before an election and seen as anything but partisan.
 

The president-elect is overwhelmingly likely, during the "interregnum," to play an integral role in formulating any additional economic emergency initiatives.

I see no reason to believe this is true and good reasons to doubt it.

As a general matter, outgoing presidents have historically failed to cooperate with incoming presidents of the opposite party. This goes back all the way to Adams/Jefferson, and there are examples I previously gave of fairly significant policy choices which affected the new administration.

This particular administration seems even less likely to cooperate, for all sorts of reasons which, 8 years on, should be obvious.
 

Saying that the president-elect is very likely to play an integral role in formulating any economic emergency initiatives during the "interregnum" may well follow from one of Sandy's premises -- that Bush lacks authority (in the sense of being entitled to a rebuttable presumption of correctness).

It certainly follows from a realistic appraisal of the political situation.
 

ignore the ad hominen attacks Prof. Levinson.

bart's view of reality is fundamentally distorted and you should simply skip his posts as do many of your silent readers.

scott chooses not to address the merits of the argument.

pinkerd still fails to understand the difference between moral authority and power.

you're right that our constitution could be made better and this is one area in which a simple change could improve the transition process and eliminate a situation in which a lame duck president continues to exercise the powers of the office after he has been replaced.
 

Just to expand on Garth's point, yes, Bush lacks authority, i.e., the ability to convey legitimacy to his decisions. He retains power -- the ability to act. JMHO, but I can't see Bush using his power to enact the policies of an incoming Obama administration regardless of the fact that the public may consider Obama's policies legitimate.
 

I get the distinction between authority and power (shall we bring in Arendt?), but what is its relevance to the matter in question?

Without authority, any future Bush economic emergency would be dead in the water.
 

Meant to say:

I get the distinction between authority and power (shall we bring in Arendt?), but what is its relevance to the matter in question?

Without authority, any future Bush economic emergency initiative would be dead in the water.
 

Sandy:

BTW, you may want to sell your Obama contracts now before the price falls. Obama's lead in the LV tracking polls has nearly halved since the markets stabilized last Friday. Thankfully, my account opened yesterday and I was able to buy McCain contracts at 17 cents on the dollar.
 

Without authority, any future Bush economic emergency initiative would be dead in the water.

I agree, but this is different than your original point. What you originally said was that the president elect would play an "integral role" in formulating emergency initiatives. Bush may not be able to formulate his own -- that's where we agree -- but he could still block those of others.
 

Mark:

My overarching theme is that Bush needs the president-elect to be involved in the formulation of any emergency economic initiatives that might play out during the "interregnum." I'm assuming the initiatives in question would require domestic legislation, which is certainly a debatable assumption.

If you buy into my assumption and the idea that Bush lacks presidential authority, then it seems to follow that Bush would need the involvement of the president-elect. If you don't buy into the idea that Bush lacks presidential authority (but are willing to go along with the assumption), then I fall back on the notion that his authority is so limited as to be constructively absent for purposes of domestic legislation.

I really do think that military interventions and pardons are altogether different from domestic legislation in almost all respects relevant to this thread.
 

Bart, if McCain reaches 25, or even 23, sell. You hold on past that and you'll get wiped out when he's trailing by 8 on Election Day.
 

BTW, you may want to sell your Obama contracts now before the price falls. Obama's lead in the LV tracking polls has nearly halved since the markets stabilized last Friday. Thankfully, my account opened yesterday and I was able to buy McCain contracts at 17 cents on the dollar.

# posted by Bart DePalma : 1:43 PM


Baghdad, is that the same "stable" market that spiked up over 900 on Monday, and then dumped over 700 today?
 

If Bush lacks authority, why is he the one calling the shots on addressing the banking crisis and Obama adopts Bush's proposals?
 

My overarching theme is that Bush needs the president-elect to be involved in the formulation of any emergency economic initiatives that might play out during the "interregnum." I'm assuming the initiatives in question would require domestic legislation, which is certainly a debatable assumption.

Agreed on both counts. Where we disagree is with the situation which may arise where the two don't agree. In that case, we risk paralysis: Bush lacks the authority to enact what he wants, but has the power to block what the pres-elect wants. It's that situation which would be nice to prevent.

I forgot to add last time that I'd love to discuss Arendt any time.
 

This idea is just nuts. The new President must choose 3000 political appointees, over 1000 of whom have to be confirmed by the Senate. It typically takes a year for a new President to fully staff the administration.

What would be the point of installing Obama and Biden on November 5th, if all of Bush's appointees are still in place? They're not going to draft a bailout plan by themselves.

Granted, the transition process is a mess. There are lots of things we might consider changing, such as reducing the number of Senate-confirmed positions, or creating civil service equivalents to Cabinet Secretaries (like the British do).

Moving up the transition date would just increase the disorganization that occurs during the transition. Absent a broad management reform, it would make more sense to push the transition date back to March. That would reduce the transition period when the government runs on autopilot because political appointments haven't been made and nobody's really in charge.
 

Regarding the possibility that Bush (while he is still president) and the president-elect might deadlock on emergency legislation: Are we simply talking about the fact that Bush continues to have the power to veto?

I suppose that gives him some ability to influence legislative outcomes going forward, though it would be a whole lot better for him if his judgment were widely trusted. Any tendency on the part of the public to defer to his judgment is limited to an increasingly narrow segment of the Republican Party.

Regarding Arendt, I recall a key distinction in her work between power and force. Power, in her sense, means something like authority in the sense I have been relying on -- it refers to the capacity of a collective will to influence an outcome.
 

Obama's lead in the LV tracking polls has nearly halved since the markets stabilized last Friday. Thankfully, my account opened yesterday and I was able to buy McCain contracts at 17 cents on the dollar.

Sounds like a shrewd acquisition, Bart. I have to say that your grasp of financial issues never ceases to impress. And I feel much, much better now having heard from you--such an astute financial observer--that the markets have stabilized.

Can we now sing some patriotic songs?
 

Absent a broad management reform, it would make more sense to push the transition date back to March. That would reduce the transition period when the government runs on autopilot because political appointments haven't been made and nobody's really in charge.

Been there, done that. It made sense to set the transition in March in 1789, due to the pace of life and the slowness of transportation. By 1932, everyone realized that these factors had changed and that the continuation in office of a rejected president could seriously harm the country. That's why they moved it to January. Now, with an even greater increase in the speed of communication and transportation, it makes sense to advance the date again.

Also note that Prof. Levinson supports the "management reform" that you mention as necessary.

Are we simply talking about the fact that Bush continues to have the power to veto?

Yes. On economic issues, this still gives him substantial power. The majority of the Republican party still supports failed economic theories. Always has, always will.
 

While waiting for the dentist to do his best to make me unable to speak for a week, I read an article in Time that discussed the administration of the bailout package. Paulson was very keen, at least on paper, to get the name of the person who the winning candidate was going to select to lead that program, so that they could be working from the moment the election was settled.

If an economic crisis is so important that both the right and the left agree that we need to pass off the torch as early as possible, why is Sandy's idea so unpalatable? If it takes a year for people to be put in place, why not get an earlier start? Don't we want our A team in the game for as long as possible?
 

"Bart" DeLooser.

BTW, you may want to sell your Obama contracts now before the price falls. Obama's lead in the LV tracking polls has nearly halved since the markets stabilized last Friday. Thankfully, my account opened yesterday and I was able to buy McCain contracts at 17 cents on the dollar.

Things are trending up for you. See here and here. "Buy high, sell low", I always say. For maximum return, you might consider waiting until the bid price is 0¢ though....

Cheers,
 

It made sense to set the transition in March in 1789, due to the pace of life and the slowness of transportation. By 1932, everyone realized that these factors had changed and that the continuation in office of a rejected president could seriously harm the country. That's why they moved it to January. Now, with an even greater increase in the speed of communication and transportation, it makes sense to advance the date again.

The changes in transportation & communication between 1789 & 1932 were huge. The changes since then have been relatively minor. For example, in 1932, you could send a message across the country more or less instantaneously, just as you can today.

The much bigger and more important change since 1932 has been that the post-New Deal government is now much larger and more complex, and the President brings a much bigger team of political appointees to Washington. This argues either for moving back the transition date, reducing the period when the various agencies are without leadership, or moving to a British-style system where high-level permanent civil servants play a larger role.

I'll take your word for it that Prof. Levinson supports management reform. But his main message seems to be that a Constitutional change or reinterpretation is a magic bullet, and concerns about the huge task of choosing political appointees are "puerile."
 

The changes in transportation & communication between 1789 & 1932 were huge. The changes since then have been relatively minor. For example, in 1932, you could send a message across the country more or less instantaneously, just as you can today.

I can't agree with this when it comes to transportation. In 1932 you could, just barely, fly across country (assuming a non-trivial risk to your life in the bargain).

As for communications, you're technically correct, but only barely so. The fact is, we can communicate much faster today than was generally possible then in an age before computers, the internet, and even photocopy machines.

The much bigger and more important change since 1932 has been that the post-New Deal government is now much larger and more complex, and the President brings a much bigger team of political appointees to Washington. This argues either for moving back the transition date, reducing the period when the various agencies are without leadership, or moving to a British-style system where high-level permanent civil servants play a larger role.

This I agree with. In my view, it cuts in favor of forcing the candidates to have their appointees ready to go immediately, i.e., just after the election. The pace of events in world affairs demands it.
 

There are so many completely obvious reasons why a new President can't have a team ready to go, that it's hard to believe this proposal is even meant seriously. For example, cabinet appointees typically already have demanding jobs. You can't just call, say, the head of Goldman Sachs on Wednesday November 5th and ask him to take over the Treasury on Thursday. Instead, top appointees need time to wind up their affairs, move to DC, undergo background checks, disclose their finances, prepare for confirmation hearings, and so on.

All these delays mean that new Presidents have typically hired a handful of White House staff by mid-December. Some of the Cabinet have typically been chosen by Christmas, and spend the holidays preparing for their January 10 confirmation hearings.

Lower-level officials take longer: "No previous administration has had confirmed more than about 25 cabinet and subcabinet personnel by April 1..No previous administration has had more than about 240 cabinet and subcabinet personnel confirmed by [the August Recess]."

To achieve even this rate of speed, modern Presidents typically begin their transition planning a year in advance, spend millions of dollars, and have transition staffs that grow to many hundreds.

So you can demand an overnight transition like the Brits have, but you might as well demand a polka-dotted pony too, because you ain't gonna get neither.
 

There's no doubt that moving up the inauguration date would require other changes. If one of those is that we have no more Treasury Secretaries come from Goldman Sachs, I don't think I'll shed any tears.

What Prof. Levinson has suggested is that it would be a good thing if the American people knew, before the election, who the President would ask to fill the cabinet positions. That's important information, certainly, something an informed voter would want to know. What you describe as a weakness is therefore exactly what he intends.
 

Mark nails it. If we knew that McCain was going to nominate Sarah Palin for VP in January, we might not have given him the GOP nomination.

If Obama announced this week that Ayers was going to be the head of Homeland Security, that might also change the way we vote in November.

Forcing those decisions to be made earlier can only enhance transparency and improve the quality of the people placed in critical positions of power.
 

There's no doubt that moving up the inauguration date would require other changes. ... What Prof. Levinson has suggested is that it would be a good thing if the American people knew, before the election, who the President would ask to fill the cabinet positions. That's important information, certainly, something an informed voter would want to know. What you describe as a weakness is therefore exactly what he intends. ... and ... Forcing those decisions to be made earlier can only enhance transparency and improve the quality of the people placed in critical positions of power.

I agree that it would be great if these decisions were announced earlier. But I don't see any possible way that they could be, barring Professor Levinson's attempt to turn us into a parliamentary country because he's mad at George Bush, or Mark's snarky attack on Goldman Sachs.

As Chef says, they need to have time to prepare, to be vetted, to transition. Obama and McCain can spend three years preparing for transition because they're only senators and can skip out on their job for two or three years in advance to run for office. But people with real jobs can't. They need to wind down their current jobs if they're going to move into the cabinet. Indeed, given the potential conflicts-of-interest, wouldn't anyone in the private sector have to quit his job as soon as he was announced as a nominee?

And given the nature of partisan politics, who in his (or her) right mind would want to expose himself to campaign attacks if he was announced before the November election? Look what happened to Joe the Plumber, and he was nobody. Would a treasury nominee in this climate be willing to take that kind of heat, given that it might be all for nought, if his candidate loses the election?
 

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There's no doubt that moving up the inauguration date would require other changes.

Yeah, changes like having a Cabinet consisting of sitting members of Congress. That's how the British have such fast transitions. The "other changes" needed would be pretty drastic. If you just wave your hands and ignore the specifics, you might as well be wishing for a pony.

Oh, and if the main point is to allow the voters to know who'll be appointed to the Cabinet, why not just write that into the Constitution, and leave the transition date where it is?
 

Yeah, changes like having a Cabinet consisting of sitting members of Congress.

That doesn't follow. I assume you mean members of Congress would be potential cabinet members. But they are now, of course; we just aren't told that.

if the main point is to allow the voters to know who'll be appointed to the Cabinet, why not just write that into the Constitution, and leave the transition date where it is?

Because that wouldn't address the problem of the lame-duck president taking action inconsistent with his successor. Obviously, nothing but an instantaneous transition can do that completely, but shortening the time would remove the potential for, say, administrative regulations designed to gum up the works.
 

That doesn't follow. I assume you mean members of Congress would be potential cabinet members. But they are now, of course; we just aren't told that.

No, he means that -- for the reasons cited above -- the only people who could fit the constraints would be members of Congress, because they don't need transition time. (I would add academics to that.)
 

No, he means that -- for the reasons cited above -- the only people who could fit the constraints would be members of Congress, because they don't need transition time. (I would add academics to that.)

I think we're all saying the same thing. He doesn't mean that Members of Congress would be simultaneously Members and in the cabinet. He means that only Members of Congress (and academics in your revisal) would be likely to be chosen. That's what I meant by my use of the word "potential".

I don't agree with this. The fact that Members of Congress (and academics) might be appointed to the cabinet is true now. This wouldn't change.

If the new system somehow limited the range of choices available to only those professions, then I would agree that's an undesirable side effect. I don't see any reason to think this. Most cabinet officials come from existing positions which are pretty flexible. If a few cabinet officials weren't able to prepare in advance because of existing job duties, that would hardly disrupt the transition. In no case would we be worse off, because even if a few new officers took several weeks to take over, that would be quicker than waiting until Jan. 20. In the meantime the existing employees would continue in their positions.
 

He doesn't mean that Members of Congress would be simultaneously Members and in the cabinet.

No, that's exactly what I meant. That's how they do it in the UK: Cabinet Ministers are elected to Parliament and vote in Parliament. That's one key reason why they're able to have such fast transitions.

The Boston Globe op-ed in the original post praises the UK system, but doesn't mention any of the fundamental features of British governance that allow that allow speedy transitions.
 

No, that's exactly what I meant. That's how they do it in the UK: Cabinet Ministers are elected to Parliament and vote in Parliament. That's one key reason why they're able to have such fast transitions.

I agree that this would be undesireable. I don't see any reason to believe that simply changing the inauguration date would have this effect.
 

I agree that this would be undesireable. I don't see any reason to believe that simply changing the inauguration date would have this effect.

Simply changing the inauguration date would be totally unworkable unless we made other drastic changes. Our current 80-day transitions are already so short as to be almost unworkable. The changes needed to speed things up would presumably make our government more like the UK one, or some other system where they have fast transitions.
 

Even if we did "make the system more like the UK", that wouldn't necessarily involve having all cabinet officers be Members of Congress. As I said above, they might come from Congress -- many of them do now anyway -- but I don't see why you think they'd need to stay in Congress after their appointment.

I think your fears about the time involved are exaggerated. While I agree that time is necessary, changing the inauguration date would demand that the time take place, in part, before the election. Both parties would have to have their teams ready to go. I have a hard time seeing why that's a bad thing.
 

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I am sorry but I only have one answer that I see as acceptable. Regardless of my feeling about any of the current incumbents, they did take an oath to defend the constitution to the best of their abilities. What has been suggested is to say that they are no longer capable of waiting a few more months. There seems to be support with the idea it is o.k. to disagree with the constitution and promote ways to get around it. If the President or Vice President resigns because they are no longer able to defend the constitution, then so be it. Until that time, we live within its limitations, and our own impatience.

This opinion of mine is separate from having a discussion on Amending the Constitution related to these dates. Congress has the Power to change when we choose electors and when the electors vote. These could be made closer together without a constitutional change. I have no preference or objections, but lean towards not changing anything at this time. I have little faith that we will not mess it up.

As for this year, the logic fails me as to any benefit that could come out of this. If we can conceive that the President would be willing to go along with this, then he certainly would be willing to go along with anything a new Vice President and President elect would do anyway. If this is so, then why resign? If he is not willing, then why resign?
 

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