The first trip by Barack Obama to the White House yesterday undoubtedly was intended by President George W. Bush as a way to show stability in a time of uncertainty and indicate to the world that the transition will be accomplished without -- to choose a word made popular in the post-election write-ups -- "drama."
Yet Obama was just a few minutes from the West Gate when word leaked that 43 and 44 had clashed over whether part of the TARP money -- the $700B allocated in the midst of the financial crisis -- could be accessed by the struggling auto industry. (Bush apparently is demanding a free-trade pact with Colombia as the price of the TARP Detroit bail-out. Somewhere, Mark Penn sighs.)
There may be some wisdom for the Obama team to study the transition efforts of FDR in 1932. Just a few weeks after defeating Herbert Hoover, FDR traveled to Washington at Hoover's request to hear about Hoover's plan to deal with the news (delivered shortly after the election) that France and Britain might default on their WWI debts.
But unlike Obama, who apparently pressed Bush on policy matters, FDR did not engage. He came to Washington to "be informed on pending matters" not make any decisions, despite Hoover's requests. The war debt was Hoover's baby, FDR later told advisers. He also refused an entreaty from Hoover in mid-December to become involved with the US position on the World Economic Council.
FDR did however, apparently offered to be named Secretary of State during the waning days of the Hoover Administration, with the intent that he would become acting President if Hoover and his VP (Charles Curtis) resigned. Hoover, needless to say, did not take up his offer.
In a final transition note, FDR almost did not survive to take office. On February 15, 1933, FDR gave a speech in Miami's Bayfront Park together with Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak. Giuseppe Zangara fired a pistol at FDR, but managed to hit five others, including Cermak, who was shaking hands with FDR at the time. Overruling the Secret Service, FDR had his car reversed and transported Cermak to the hospital, where he died several weeks later.
Zangara was executed by the State of Florida in the electric chair thirty-three days after the shooting.