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Crisis puts focus on Obama

WASHINGTON — President-elect Obama is grabbing the mantle of national leadership in unprecedented ways, creating what has emerged as a parallel presidency just three weeks after his election.

Obama indicated recently that he felt he had no choice. During one of three nationally televised events on the economy in as many days, he said "extraordinary circumstances" had forced his hand.

His actions have drawn the attention of the public, the news media and financial markets, which appear to be responding at least as much to the decisions of the incoming Democratic administration as to the Republican one still in power. Since Obama began to reveal his economic team last week, the stock market has rallied. The Dow Jones industrials closed up for the fifth consecutive session Friday.

"People should understand that help is on the way," Obama said Wednesday in announcing the creation of an Economic Recovery Advisory Board led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

Since last week, Obama's statements and public appearances have been designed to fill a leadership vacuum and generate public confidence in his abilities as a crisis manager. The moves represent an abrupt shift from a hands-off approach he had announced two weeks earlier.

"It's rather like George Bush has checked out, and if Obama doesn't take more drastic action than he originally promised, he gets blamed for whatever happens," said Paul Light, a New York University professor who specializes in presidential transitions.

New presidents "have tried to stay away from the outgoing administration's policies as much as possible," Light added. "They want to start with a clean slate, and Obama is clearly not starting with a clean slate."

Obama began shifting to a take-charge approach last weekend, when he announced a plan for creating 2.5-million jobs. This week, he indicated he is preparing a major economic stimulus package that the new Congress, which takes office in early January, could act on even before he is sworn in as president on Jan. 20.

On Tuesday, he plans to meet with governors from both political parties in Philadelphia to discuss the financial squeeze that states are experiencing.

Obama's leadership efforts provide a counterpoint to those of the Bush administration, which has less than two months left.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has largely been the face of the Bush response to the economic crisis, and Bush's efforts to spur public confidence in his ability to deal with the crisis have been notably unproductive. Bush said last week that there was close cooperation between his administration and his successor's and that he was informing Obama of big decisions.

While Obama was introducing the latest members of his economic team in Chicago, Bush was on a pre-Thanksgiving holiday visit to an Army base in Kentucky. Bush altered his schedule to let Obama's economic announcement take precedence over his ceremonial pardoning of a turkey at the White House.

Obama had hoped to remain in the background during the transition. In his first news conference after the election, he emphasized that the United States has only one president, a statement widely applauded as appropriate for a newly elected leader.

But Obama said it was "important, given the uncertainty in the markets and given the very legitimate anxiety that the American people are feeling, that they know that their new president has a plan and is going to act swiftly and boldly."

Crisis puts focus on Obama 11/29/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 10:40am]
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