Commentary: Up to Presidential Speed | Opinion
When the president warned of “a dagger in the throat of democracy,” I wondered about the word “to.”
This dagger has already drawn blood. America can no longer boast of a peaceful transfer of power.
Last year, it didn’t matter. The outgoing president was no more helpful than a shovel in an ocean, no more honest than a canned laugh.
That one aberration aside, we consider cooperation necessary, like the short side-to-side distances of relay runners so the stick never slows down.
On this Presidents Day, let’s take a look at how this baton has been passed in the past.
Although several outgoing presidents did not like their replacements, they were always cooperative. Yes, Herbert Hoover played a few tricks in hopes of getting ahead of FDR’s New Deal, but that was mostly PR.
And, yes, John Adams left town before Tom Jefferson was sworn in. But keep in mind that inauguration day was March 4 until FDR put the date.
For four months, Adams and his team voluntarily informed TJ Also, this was only the second transition, so there was nothing that could be called personalized.
“Gracious” describes our last three transitions. George Bush left his legendary letter to Bill Clinton who, in turn, included George W. Bush in the briefings during the long recount in Florida.
Eight years later, our economy in shambles, George W. included Barack Obama and his advisers in negotiations with Wall Street – a move that drew howls from the Fox News crowd who accused Obama of “jumping the gun” .
They didn’t know there was precedent for Bush pushing Obama into the 2008 financial crisis as soon as possible. Few people knew that a secret was hidden when secrets could be.
Woodrow Wilson was an unlikely president, a reform-minded Democrat when it was still a contradiction in terms.
He overthrew incumbent William Howard Taft in 1912 with the help of Teddy Roosevelt who came out of retirement to split the Republican vote.
Two years into Wilson’s presidency, war broke out in Europe. England and France wanted our alliance just as German immigrants were pouring into Ellis Island – with waves coming from Italy, Russia and other Eastern European countries with uncertain alliances.
Few Americans wanted to go to war, but when German torpedoes began sinking Cunard liners with American passengers, the sentiment began to change.
Wilson was an academic by trade, a historian who rose to the presidency from Princeton before being recruited by scandal-ridden New Jersey Democrats to run for governor.
Perhaps that’s why, as the 1916 election approached and the polls dwindled, he pondered the consequences a lame presidency during a world war would have for the nation.
Weeks before the vote, Wilson met with Vice President Thomas Marshall, then his Republican opponent, Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes, and finally with congressional leaders from both parties.
All agree. If Wilson lost, Vice President Marshall would resign the next day, after which Wilson would appoint Hughes as vice president and the Senate would confirm it.
That done, Wilson would step down, turning an elected president into president within 24 hours of the count.
Wilson and his team would have made themselves available for as long as Hughes needed. It looks like the ultimate transition, but it was all moot when Wilson beat Hughes 277-254 in the Electoral College, 49-46 in the popular vote.
This seemingly impossible bipartisanship would have been surpassed when FDR tried to coax Republican Wendell Willkie, whom he defeated in 1940, into running as his vice president in 1944. Knowing he was left with only months to live, FDR indeed planned to turn the vice presidency into a transition.
The Indiana businessman was too cautious to say yes, but a Missouri senator proved a worthy successor to FDR’s New Deal.
So did the Republican war hero who followed. It was a time when both sides put the interests of the nation first.
Rather than daggers to the throat, they directed powers of persuasion into our hearts and minds.
Without our “peaceful transfer of power,” America has lost its claim to be a model for the world.
The question now is, do we even want it back?
Bring Jack Garvey, author of Pay the Piper and Keep Newburyport Weird, to email@example.com.