Robb: Transition do’s and don’t'sby Robert Robb on Nov. 13, 2008, under Elections, Nation/World, Opinion
No. 1 – Don’t invade Iran
From the political notebook:
• The transition between presidencies is a tricky period, without clearly defined do’s and don’ts. President Bush and President-elect Obama have one big don’t during this period, though.
Bush shouldn’t take military action against Iran.
It was widely speculated that the administration might act in this transition period to try to degrade Iran’s nuclear facilities or wink at Israel to do it.
Given the sorry state of our economy, that speculation has abated.
Nevertheless, Obama ran on an explicit policy of more direct diplomacy with Iran on the nuclear issue. He won. He should be given the chance to implement his policy.
• Obama’s big don’t is less obvious and probably contrary to his instincts.
The economy is hurting. The Bush administration is open to the involvement of Obama and his economic advisors regarding federal action during the transition. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has even cleared considerable space in his offices to accommodate Obama’s team.
Obama should say no.
This goes beyond the usual argument that there can only be one president at a time, though that is part of it. The federal bailout is already hurting as much as it is helping due to the increased uncertainty it has injected into markets. Adding decision-makers isn’t a way to speed decisions.
Beyond that, however, the country could use the sense of a fresh start on the economy. That won’t occur if there’s a blend between Bush and Obama during the transition.
After the 1932 election, the Hoover administration tried to get FDR to participate in its efforts to boost the economy. There was an even more compelling argument for it, because the transition period was a couple of months longer.
FDR declined to do so. He wanted to convey the sense of a clean break and a new start.
Obama would benefit from doing likewise.
• For the same reason, Obama should not appoint one of the reported leading candidates as Treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, president of the New York Federal Reserve.
Geithner has been neck-deep in the ad hoc decisions Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke have made as the economic distress has widened.
Paulson and Bernanke have lurched and temporized, adding as much uncertainty as balm as they went. To coin a phrase, Geithner would represent more of the same.
• At the state level, Democrats spent big and lost legislative seats. Not much should be read into that. This was a return to central tendencies.
Although parties are supposedly in decline, party affiliation is still the best predictor of voting behavior. Nothing else is even a close second.
And despite the rise in the number of independents, the party with the registration advantage still wins, nearly all the time.
Although the outcome of some races remains in doubt, only five or six of 60 state House seats probably will be held by someone bucking a registration disadvantage. Likely only one of 30 Senate seats will be held by someone without a registration advantage.
• Last time, Democrats gained some seats by employing what is known as the single-shot strategy.
In Arizona, each legislative district gets two House seats. Voters get to vote for two, and the two with the highest vote counts win.
Sometimes, however, a party fields just one candidate. That way, if that party’s voters only vote for the one, but some of the voters for the other party split their votes, a minority party candidate can come out on top.
This election, Democrats fielded just one House candidate in 12 districts, and Republicans did so in four.
To be successful, the single-shot strategy requires asking your party’s voters to throw away one of their votes. And in a democracy, that’s just not right.
Arizona should go to single-member House districts. That would increase accountability and political competition, and no one would be asked to throw away a vote.
Robert Robb, an Arizona Republic columnist, writes about public policy and politics in Arizona. E-mail: email@example.com