The Behind-the-Scenes Mambo?

The reviews for President-Elect Obama’s first press conference have been generally favorable:  he looked and sounded presidential, he struck the right tone between being commanding and self-deprecating, he displayed some charm and humor, surrounded himself with good people from both parties (but mostly Democratic), evaded many pot-holes and trick questions posed by the media, and expressed ideas and proposals that aligned closely with what he had said during the campaign season.

All in all, a job well done.  But I noted a few small signals of what might be going on behind the scenes. 

Specifically, regarding his role vis-a-vis President Bush, his demeanor in the press conference showed deference to Bush despite his lame-duck status (to say nothing of the utter fatigue with which this nation and the rest of the world regards him).  President-elect Obama nevertheless asserted that the Monday visit to the White House would not be purely symbolic; rather, he expected to have “substantive” discussions.  This sounded more like a determined parent than an eager puppy.

Less than 24 hours later, President Bush had his first post-election radio address this morning.  In it, he insisted that he still had “president” business to do.  This struck an ominous tone (suggesting that he was not yet done undermining environmental and consumer protections).  But he also mentioned the need for taking immediate action on the economy while making strong assurances that he wouldn’t just be coasting these last few months.

What might (and I emphasize might) be going on behind the scenes is this:  President-Elect Obama has signaled that he puts a high priority on implementing some sort of stimulus package before the inauguration.  Key Congressional players have indicated the same, and no one has said anything that could presage resistance.  Even President Bush has said that he would veto such a package only if it lacked certain components.  This of course suggests that he is not deadset opposed to some sort of stimulus.

Another motivation for President-Elect Obama is to silence, as much as possible, the GOP bleating that he isn’t being bipartisan enough.  On this point, they are apparently offering Mr. Obama no honeymoon period.  As Digby often says, they clutched their pearls and took to the fainting coach over the appointment of Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff.  The faux-outrage didn’t gain much traction, especially when some fairly savvy Republican pundits openly contradicted it, but it certainly offered a clear view of their intended strategy going forward.

At the same time, President Bush is desperately looking for some sort of positive legacy he can take from his eight years in office.  The clock is most definitely running out on him, and imagine his shame to leave office with absolutely the worst approval rating in history.  He wouldn’t even be able to claim the consolation prize of “at least I wasn’t as bad a president as Dick Nixon”.

Huh.  It’s funny I should mention Dick Nixon.  One could argue that what salvaged a slender shred of dignity for him was the pardon he received from President Ford.

One way both President-Elect Obama (and the American people he was overwhelmingly chosen to represent) and President Bush could get what they each want would be this:  Obama, aided by his bipartisan economic advisory council and members of congressional leadership, could work behind the scenes to craft a sensible economic stimulus package that had the support of a sufficient bipartisan majority to pass it.  Then, let Bush bask in the limelight of selling it to the American people and signing it into law.

Everyone involved would obviously recognize that this reflected Obama’s work, even though Bush would get the nominal credit for it.  George Bush could use this to help repair his legacy so he could leave office on a bit of a high note.  For Barack Obama, it would serve as a clear example of what he means by post-partisanship and show any Republican who was willing to learn just what they needed to do to still have influence (and not coincidentally help repair the Republican brand) even when their performance in the last two election cycles justifies excluding them from all but the most menial policy decisions.

Some would grumble that, if President-Elect Obama were to do this, it gives President Bush an undeserved gift.  Sort of like President Ford pardoning Richard Nixon, but not as bad.  I would probably do some grumbling about it too.  But even I would be willing to forgo the delicious prospect of seeing Bush utterly humiliated in order to reverse the economic “circling of the drain”.  To say nothing of how the urgency of the country’s problems demands a quick change to GOP tactics.  The best way to get children to stop whining is to show them a much better way to get what they want.

I could be all wrong about this.  I could be reading too much into subtle signals.  I could be giving President-Elect Obama, or President Bush for that matter, too much credit.  I could be crazy.

But I bet — and hope — I’m not.

UPDATE:  Hoffmania Himself is apparently thinking along the same lines, at least as far as encouraging the GOPers and their sympathizers to grow up and behave themselves.

They’re listening. Now’s your chance. If you don’t speak up, then you’re going to have no right to criticize down the road.

Well, okay – you’ll still have the right. You’ll just look silly when you exercise it.

4 Responses to “The Behind-the-Scenes Mambo?”

  1. Bill says:

    I didn’t know that we now have an office of the President Elect. Being proactive during this transition period so he can hit the ground running in Jan is a good thing. But, trying to inject his policies while he is the President-Elect, is a little premature. He will have plenty of time to to destroy our country once he becomes President.

  2. radical_Moderate says:

    Bill, why do I detect some hopeful glee when you say that Obama will “destroy our country,” you aren’t thinking along the lines of a tit for tat vis a vis what your guy has done to this country in the last 8 years are you? Anyway, judging by Sen John Boehner’s provocative essay in WAPO yesterday, basically threatening to obstruct Obama’s agenda when possible, I’d say fasten your seatbelts Democrats, the next 4 years are shaping up to be a bumpy ride.

  3. Actually, Gail, this is a very interesting piece, largely because I stuck on the same point myself; the repeated insistances that President Bush was still the president. I think I took away a slightly different impression from it, though your argument is so flushed out I find little fault in it.

    I was just thinking as I watched it that the message that President Elect Obama was sending was to calm down, inauguration day isn’t until January 20th, so while he is being proactive, he’s also still just a senator. It’s as though he’s trying to calm people down who might think that Obama immediately takes over, or even that they know better, but want him to jump right in anyway.

  4. DrGail says:

    It is certainly quite possible, Kyle, that what caught our attention in the presser is nothing more than a means of lowering expectations. If that’s true, however, I confess I’ll be just a bit disappointed that we aren’t going to see a bit of the old martial arts (as you generally label it) right out of the gate.

    Incidentally, if this were a corporate transition from one CEO to another, with the departing CEO moving onto the board (or worse, ascending to Chairman of the Board), this is precisely what I would advise the incoming CEO to do in order to defuse any troublemaking the outgoing CEO might try.

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