The latest McCain campaign attack line on Barack Obama, representing one of the few options for mocking the Democrat’s highly successful overseas trip, and building on the older idea that Obama’s some sort of egomaniacal Messiah figure (“The One,” as McCain’s staff calls him), has been that he’s pretending to have already won the presidency. This meme got a boost today from WaPo’s Dana Milbank, who had some irresponsible fun with the idea that Obama’s gone from being the “presumptive” nominee to the “presumptuous” nominee who’s engaging in a “victory tour” and “acting presidential.”
Since a lot of the people mocking Obama’s “presumptuousness” are also predicting that Obama could lose because Americans just can’t envision him as Commander-in-Chief, this is a pretty disingenuous criticism. But the particular complaint that really makes me crazy is this one, as articulated by Milbank:
The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder reported last week that Obama has directed his staff to begin planning for his transition to the White House, causing Republicans to howl about premature drape measuring.
We should all hope that both candidates are putting into motion some planning for a post-victory transition. That’s particularly true of Obama, given the vast personnel and policies changes invariably associated with a change of party administration. Anyone who remembers the chaos and lost time and opportunities associated with Bill Clinton’s transition operation in 1992 wouldn’t want to wish that on any president. And somehow, I doubt that most critics of Obama’s “presumptuousness” had issues with George W. Bush’s open transition planning during the Florida crisis of 2000, which had the cover, of course, of Bush’s claim that he had already won.
The idea that directing staff to begin thinking about the transition represents some sort of “taking the eyes off the ball” mistake by Obama doesn’t make any sense, either. Certainly his policy staff has some spare time; with the candidate’s agenda and platform already in place, their labors will be largely limited to new developments; nuances related to the candidate’s travel (viz. the deployment of his foreign policy advisors during the overseas trip); and later on, debate prep.
What would indeed represent dangerous “drape-measuring” behavior? Staff infighting and jockeying for future position in a “presumptive” administration. As I recall, a fair amount of that went on during the Gore and Kerry campaigns. But if that’s happening in Team Obama, it’s certainly been well-hidden–as opposed to Team McCain, where the candidate’s unfortunate tendency to blur the chain of command and tolerate rivalries among advisors is a bad sign not only for his campaign, but for a McCain administration.
Why isn’t Obama actually challenging McCain to begin preparing too? How quickly people forget – one of the findings of the 9/11 Commission was that Presidential transition is a broken process. Just a couple of weeks ago, Slade Gorton and Jamie Gorelick put a bipartisan op-ed in the NY Times encouraging both candidates to begin planning. This shouldn’t be a political issue and one or both of the candidates would be wise to realize and publicize this.