The interregnum blues

Ah, the Bush administration. ItâÄôs going to be strange to see them all go; for many of us, this is the only presidency we really remember. WeâÄôre going to have to adjust to having a president who isnâÄôt despised around the world, but I think most of us will manage. But itâÄôs not quite that time yet. With Inauguration Day still two months away, weâÄôre officially in that awkward phase between presidencies. Well, usually itâÄôs just awkward. This time, it could very well be disastrous. Our economic crisis continues to worsen. The stock market has been fluctuating wildly, weâÄôve hit unemployment levels not seen for decades and the major auto companies are on the verge of collapse. This is the sort of time when we need strong, focused leadership at the top of the federal government, ready to point us in a new direction. Instead, weâÄôre getting inaction and conservatism âÄî and I mean that in the little-c, âÄúnot doing anythingâÄù sense. Outgoing members of the government seem to feel little urgency, and their replacements canâÄôt yet do anything about it. WeâÄôre left hoping we can hang on until late January, managing to avoid further meltdowns until then. A week ago, we got our first hint of how troublesome this transition would be. The G-20 (a group of most of the worldâÄôs largest economies) met in Washington last weekend to discuss ways to mitigate the economic crisis. But Barack Obama did not attend. President George W. Bush ran the show while Obama sent a few advisors to engage in âÄúunofficialâÄù meetings with various world leaders. In calmer times, that would be fine âÄî a way for the next administration to get its feet wet while the outgoing group gets one last hurrah. We donâÄôt have that luxury. Before the summit, the Treasury Department announced that they would not do anything to tie Obama down âÄî meaning they would not do anything at all. ThatâÄôs problematic, obviously. We canâÄôt spend the next two months avoiding action just so that the next president gets a clean slate. The New York TimesâÄô Paul Krugman, looking at the state of the credit markets on Thursday, called our situation âÄúan economic emergency.âÄù ThatâÄôs âÄúemergency,âÄù as in, âÄúWe need to act now,âÄù not, âÄúRelax! We can take a few months off.âÄù The rest of the world has little reason to negotiate with Bush, since he wonâÄôt be the one to carry out any agreements. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy CarterâÄôs national security advisor, appeared on MSNBC Friday to discuss the problems the current vacuum of power is causing. He pointed out that the rest of the world cannot look to the United States for leadership if we donâÄôt have a clear leader of our own. (And, as a member of the Carter Administration, Brzezinski assumedly knows a thing or two about a lack of leadership.) During the G-20 meeting, various world leaders made plans to contact Obama privately, in an attempt to have some constructive dialogue. But the meeting in general was rather pointless with Bush in attendance. A related problem has been springing up in Congress, too. Congress just finished up a post-election session with pretty much nothing to show for it. Democrats see no reason to give in to Republican demands âÄî since theyâÄôre going to have an even bigger majority come January âÄî and the GOP doesnâÄôt see why they should sacrifice their positions just because theyâÄôre going to lose seats. Congress will probably be back one more time in early December to discuss a possible bailout for the three major car companies. But without a change in tone, we probably wonâÄôt see anything done. Today, Obama will formally announce his economic team, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. This group is going to have to get busy immediately, and not just in planning for late January. The current and future teams need to get together now to begin implementing new recovery methods. There may only be one president at a time, but we can still figure out ways to get vital stimulus passed in the next few months. We donâÄôt really have much of a choice. It looks like Citigroup, one of the biggest banks in the world, is going under. If anything qualifies as âÄútoo big to failâÄù it would be Citi, so weâÄôll probably see a move to bailout âÄî and possibly nationalize outright âÄî the troubled bank. And in a few weeks, the Detroit automakers will present their own bailout proposal to the lame-duck Congress. These are both important steps, but we need to go further. The current Congress and administration need to work with President-elect ObamaâÄôs new team to begin passing ObamaâÄôs proposals right now. Empty, pointless partisanship is the only thing stopping the incoming administration from getting its recovery plan moving immediately. The outgoing Congress and White House will have to admit that our current crisis is too severe to wait. If they do so, Obama and his team can begin to implement the very policies we elected him to enact. Obama has already announced that his team is hard at work drawing up a massive new two-year stimulus package. Current officials should be involved in that process so it can be implemented as soon as itâÄôs finished. Current Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson reportedly has a close relationship with incoming Secretary Geithner, and those two men should be working hand-in-hand over the next few weeks. Other officials and members of Congress should do the same. The crisis wonâÄôt end tomorrow, but every wasted day delays real recovery. John Sharkey welcomes comments at [email protected]