It was only a visit but the short trip President-elect Barack Obama and wife Michelle paid to the White House itself was historic. The soon-to-be first couple called upon President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush for a firsthand look at what will be the Obama’s new home as of January 20, 2009.
The picture of the Black couple emerging from a limousine at the White House with the current President and First Lady waiting to greet them is perhaps the image, even more so than the election night photos, that best defines the almost surreal atmosphere that has engulfed this improbable presidential election. For if there is any image that is associated with the most powerful government position in the world, it is the column mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC; the nation’s most famous address.
Seeing President-elect Obama and President Bush walking down the colonnade of the West Wing together, waving to reporters sent a clear message that the nation is in full transition mode. The two men, polar opposites politically, must now work collaboratively to ensure a smooth transition of governance during one of the most unnerving periods of American history. The meeting of the two leaders, outgoing and incoming, also represents the genius of the democracy; that two individuals who represent very different political and governing philosophies are now connected at the hip as they transition our government in an orderly and deliberate fashion. The manner, in which presidential transitions occur, after the rancor of a hard fought campaign, is a testament to the brilliant design of our system of governance.
The visit itself is a tradition that serves two purposes. First, the practical reason is it allows the incoming President and his family to see the living quarters at the White House. As much as the mansion serves as the functioning office of the President and administration staff, and site for official state functions, it also is the “home” to the first family and the second floor of the White House is designed to provide as much intimacy as possible in such a highly visible building. For Michelle Obama the visit allowed her to start planning for her children’s relocation and a sense of all the building has to offer her family, from the grounds, to guest rooms and private movie theater. Previous President’s with young children or teenagers, such as the Kennedys, Carters and Clintons, worked hard to ensure some sense of privacy for their family and no doubt the Obamas will do likewise.
President-elect Obama used the visit as an opportunity to talk shop with President Bush. Mr. Obama reiterated his desire to see a second economic stimulus package passed and signed by Mr. Bush when Congress convenes for a lame duck session next week. President Bush hinted that he might be willing to compromise on an aid package but there are still questions about how deep and direct such aid would be to consumers. The President-elect also called upon Mr. Bush to aid the failing auto industry in Detroit as its collapse would deepen the nation’s economic woes and cause untold hardships among the thousands of suppliers that depend on the industry for their survival. If U.S. automobile manufacturers collapse it would also be a significant psychological blow to the country as the industry played a pivotal role in making the country a global economic power in the 20th century. The fact that the big three automakers – General Motors, Chrysler and Ford – are now weighing merger options and pleading for help from the government is an indication that they have exhausted their options to recover on their own.
In the weeks leading up to the inauguration there will be hundreds of meetings between the current administration and the Obama transition team as both staffs seeks an orderly transition. Thus far, the relationship between President-elect Obama and President Bush has been amicable; a tone that seems to have been established by both men who understand that history will ultimately be the judge of their legacies.