The Barack Obama Honeymoon Will Be Short

Bush, Clinton, Carter, and other ex-presidents can testify how quickly grace periods end.

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Considering the problems of our time, some of them due to the huge mess left behind by the Bush-Cheney administration, President Barack Obama's honeymoon period in the White House may be relatively brief. He may find what other presidents have learned: After January 20, you are bound to encounter trouble, perhaps early on.

During the political campaign, the Obama operation was a case study in rigid control. Leaks and internal back-biting were nonstarters. The campaign hierarchy, and particularly top advisers David Plouffe and David Axelrod, kept a tight lid on the troops.

However, governing is far different from campaigning. A new crowd will join the Obama team in the capital, folks with little or no connection to the campaign group. The White House may be sealed, but the cabinet, its members, and their underlings are another matter.

In White House administrations of recent history, that honeymoon period was almost a distant memory by the spring thaw in the capital.

George W. Bush, who campaigned as a "uniter, not a divider," soon ran aground with Democrats in Congress as he and Vice President Cheney considered them a mere annoyance. Hard-line conservatives moved into agencies and put a "don't mess with us" sign on the door

Bill Clinton's action on the "don't ask, don't tell" program for gays in the military divided Pentagon brass and raised the hackles of conservatives in Congress. The Clintons also found the going tough once Hillary Clinton took over the healthcare issue, a disaster with the secrecy the first lady built into the operation.

As one who covered the administrations of Bush 41, Jimmy Carter, and Gerald Ford, I can personally attest to their early clashes with voters and/or the press.

George H. W. Bush turned the White House operation over to former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, who had helped him gain the office. Sununu was an abrasive boss who sought to find any wayward aide and punish him or her. He considered the press the enemy while the president tried to act with decency toward it.

Jimmy Carter found early that Washington was not Atlanta, where he served as governor. Carter's chief of staff, the late Hamilton Jordan, immediately ran afoul of Democratic House Speaker Tip O'Neill. 

After Jordan treated the speaker with some disdain, O'Neill referred to him as "Hannibal Jerkin." Jordan made nice with the speaker later, but the damage was done and Carter's relations with his own party in Congress were troublesome.

Gerald Ford had the misfortune of following Richard Nixon after Nixon resigned in disgrace. Ford couldn't bring himself to fire anybody, so some Nixon holdovers remained with Ford's appointees. Obviously, it didn't work.

To his credit, Ford then summoned NATO Ambassador Don Rumsfeld back from Europe, and he dispatched the Nixon staffers in quick order. (This was the same Don Rumsfeld who botched the Pentagon job under Bush 43 and was forced to resign.)

So Happy New Year to President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden. The warning sign is already in place.