From the Office Space of the President-elect
Ken McIntyre /
Another electronic circular with the nameplate “New Common Sense” burst forth from other corridors of The Heritage Foundation late Friday. This one, again anonymously signed “A Conservative,” takes on the delicate topic of the constitutional authority granted the nation’s president-elect.
The e-circular carries the headline “The Presumptive President-elect” and reads as follows:
Barack Obama is doing so many news conferences and speeches, not to mention from a lectern with an official seal proclaiming “Office of the President-Elect,” the casual observer may be forgiven for being confused. The United States seems to have two presidents in office: Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
The Constitution, in fact, makes no reference to a president-elect. It was the Presidential Transition Act of 1963 (Public Law 88-277) that gave federal office space and a $900,000 budget to the “apparent successful candidate” known as the “president-elect.” Having resigned his Senate seat, Obama is merely a private citizen entitled to government office space — the White House not included. Officially, he has yet to be elected president.
How so? The Electoral College, which constitutionally elects the president and vice president, doesn’t meet until Dec. 15. Its votes aren’t tallied until Jan. 6 — two weeks before Inauguration Day. Granted, there’s no reason to believe Barack Obama won’t prevail. But constitutionally speaking — and despite the media’s leanings — he is not yet commander-in-chief.
A Harvard-educated constitutional lawyer, the presumptive president-elect speaks from his office, or rather his office space, as if he already has the constitutional authority to lead the American people. However, a president’s power, unlike that of a king, falls within the span of four years. That power begins and ends as the law prescribes and the people grant.
To the extent Obama acts, or is treated, like the rhetorical and symbolic leader of the United States, it’s a dangerous development indeed. At this point, Obama is an ordinary citizen. Just like Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush or Jimmy Carter — except he hasn’t been president yet.
– A Conservative