Obama needs to work with Bush team

David Frum

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Kai Ryssdal: Voters answered Barack Obama's call for change last night. Fixing the economy is obviously change No. 1. He doesn't actually get the job until January, though. We don't know yet how closely he's going to work with the Bush administration. Commentator David Frum says this is no time to play politics.


David Frum: The story goes that somebody once asked Ronald Reagan how an actor could be president. Reagan supposedly answered: "I don't know how anybody could be president, if they had not been an actor." Successful politicians tend to be theatrical. But in turbulent economic times, this political instinct can be dangerous to everyone else's financial well-being.

An ominous precedent was set by another great dramatizing president, Franklin Roosevelt. FDR was elected in November 1932 but not inaugurated until March 1933, under the rules of the day. And for five months, some of the most desperate months in American financial history, Roosevelt absolutely refused to cooperate in any way with the outgoing Hoover administration -- refused even to offer any hint or clue as to the economic measures he would favor once in office.

Roosevelt had many motives. In part, he wanted to avoid political contamination by the toxic outgoing president. But many suspected that Roosevelt understood that the worse things were on the day before he took office, the better he would look on his first day in.

Deliberately or not, Roosevelt maximized political and economic uncertainty for almost half a year at unknowable cost to the American people, but to his own ultimate political benefit.

Might such a temptation be repeated? There are signs that the worst of the Wall Street financial crisis lies behind us. Credit conditions are thawing, huge liquidity has been injected into markets and stock indexes seem to have apparently stabilized. A recession has begun, but its severity remains uncertain.

From the point of view of the new president, this bottoming out is premature. He needs the recovery to begin in January and will benefit if it can be made to look that way.

That would be understandable politics. It could be very dangerous economics.

Ryssdal: That was David Frum. He's a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. We also heard from Robert Reich. He is a professor of public policy at the University of California Berkely.

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