Friday, October 17, 2008

Desperate to get him gone

Weird op-ed from the Boston Globe:

Fast track the new president

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.

How can we avoid a similar fate? The present January inaugural date is fixed by the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. Changing that would take years, not days.

But there is a way out - if our political leaders are smart, courageous, and public-spirited enough to take it.

Assume that Barack Obama wins the election, as polls show is increasingly likely. The following day, Vice President Cheney should be prevailed upon to resign. Using his powers to designate a successor under the 25th Amendment, President Bush should then appoint, and Congress should confirm, Obama as vice president (just as Richard Nixon appointed Gerald Ford vice president in 1973 when Spiro Agnew resigned). Bush himself should then resign, elevating Obama to the presidency - as Ford became president when Nixon resigned. Obama should then appoint Joe Biden as vice president.

With Congress's confirmation of Biden, the new administration would be in place, on the job, and ready to tackle the economic crisis - in November, not January. (The electoral college's official ratification of the election results in December would merely rubber-stamp the transition.)

Such extraordinary action would be particularly appropriate in the event of an Obama/Biden victory, since that ticket promises the most dramatic change from the current administration's approach and policies.

However, it could be pursued with equal effectiveness if the McCain/Palin ticket is victorious. The goal remains the same: Get the new administration up, running, and dealing with the crisis as quickly as possible. It is simply vital for the government to act in as urgent a fashion as the situation demands.

The founding fathers' original four-month "interregnum" may have made sense at a time when election results were disseminated and presidents-elect transported to Washington at a horse's pace. The 20th Amendment, adopted in 1933, shortened that interval to its present 11 weeks. That amendment moved us in the right direction. It simply didn't go far enough.

Most free nations change administrations with far greater dispatch. The British, for example, replace their governments virtually overnight. If you're elected prime minister on Thursday, the Queen calls you to the palace on Friday and asks you to form a new government. Meanwhile, the movers are already packing up your predecessor.

While I appreciate the fear and panic that this suggestion springs from, can anyone honestly picture Cheney leaving one second before he has to?


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