By GAIL COLLINS
Seriously. We have an economy that’s crashing and a vacuum at the top. Bush — who is currently on a trip to Peru to meet with Asian leaders who no longer care what he thinks — hasn’t got the clout, or possibly even the energy, to do anything useful. His most recent contribution to resolving the fiscal crisis was lecturing representatives of the world’s most important economies on the glories of free-market capitalism.
Putting Barack Obama in charge immediately isn’t impossible. Dick Cheney, obviously, would have to quit as well as Bush. In fact, just to be on the safe side, the vice president ought to turn in his resignation first. (We’re desperate, but not crazy.) Then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would become president until Jan. 20. Obviously, she’d defer to her party’s incoming chief executive, and Barack Obama could begin governing.
As a bonus, the Pelosi presidency would put a woman in the White House this year after all. On the downside, a few right-wing talk-show hosts might succumb to apoplexy. That would, of course, be terrible, but I’m afraid we might have to take the risk in the name of a greater good.
Can I see a show of hands? How many people want George W. out and Barack in?
A great many Americans have been counting the days all year on their 2008 George W. Bush Out of Office Countdown calendars. I know a lot of this has been going on because so many people congratulated me when the Feb. 1 Bush quote turned out to be from one of my old columns. (“I think we need not only to eliminate the tollbooth from the middle class, I think we should knock down the tollbooth.”)
This was not nearly as good as Feb. 5 (“We ought to make the pie higher”) or Feb. 21 (“I understand small business growth. I was one.”) But we do what we can.
In the past, presidents have not taken well to suggestions that they hand over the reins before the last possible minute. Senator J. William Fulbright suggested a plan along those lines when Harry Truman was coming to the end of a term in a state of deep unpopularity, and Truman called him “Halfbright” for the rest of his life. Bush might not love the idea of quitting before he has a chance to light the Christmas tree or commute the execution of one last presidential turkey. After all, he still has a couple more trips planned. And last-minute regulations to issue. (So many national parks to despoil, so many endangered species to exterminate ... .) And then there’s all the packing.
On the other hand, he might want to consider his legacy, such as it is.
In happier days, Bush may have nurtured hopes of making it into the list of America’s mediocre presidents, but somewhere between Iraq and Katrina, that goal became a mountain too high. However, he might still have a chance to avoid the absolute bottom of the barrel, a spot currently occupied by James Buchanan, at least in my opinion. Buchanan nailed down The Worst President title in the days between Abraham Lincoln’s election and inauguration, when the Southern states began seceding and Buchanan, after a little flailing about, did absolutely nothing. “Doing nothing is almost the worst thing a president can do,” said the historian Michael Beschloss.
If Bush gives up doing nothing by giving up his job, it’s possible that someday history might elevate him to the ranks of the below average. Better than Franklin Pierce! Smarter than Warren Harding! And healthier than William Henry Harrison!
The person who would like this plan least probably would be Barack Obama. Who would want to be saddled with the auto industry’s problems ahead of schedule? The heads of America’s great carmaking corporations are so dim that they couldn’t even survive hearings run by members of Congress who actually wanted to help them. Really, when somebody asks you exactly how much money you need, the answer should not be something along the line of “a whole bunch.”
An instantaneous takeover would also ruin the Obama team’s plan to have the tidiest, best-organized presidential transition in history. Cutting it short and leaping into governing would turn their measured march toward power into a mad scramble. A lot of their Cabinet picks are still working on those 62-page questionnaires.
But while there’s been no drama with Obama, we’ve been living a Technicolor version of “The Perils of Pauline.” Detroit is tied to the railroad tracks and the train is coming! California’s state government is falling into the sea! The way we’re going now, by the time the inauguration rolls around, unemployment will be at 10 percent and the Dow will be at 10.
Time for a change.