Hard to imagine, but in the horse-and-buggy days of our republic, the president was not inaugurated until March. Then, during the depression of the 1930s, Congress changed the Constitution to advance the inaugural date to Jan. 20. And now the question arises whether that is too long a vacuum in a world full of challenges to the new president.
There are wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that call for quick decisions that may not be honored coming from a lame-duck president. There is the likelihood that a Status of Forces Agreement covering American troops in Iraq may not have been reached by year-end when the current U.N. mandate expires. Unless that is renewed, American forces are left without a legal basis for operation.
There is Iran, enriching uranium and sowing the seeds of trouble throughout the Middle East, and reportedly willing to talk — but not to the outgoing president. There is the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, unlikely to yield the agreement that George Bush would like for his legacy. There is the financial crisis, requiring massive and swift action, and stimulus that a soon-to-be retired president will find it hard to deliver.
And, perhaps, most mystifying of all, there is the 20-nation summit conference that President Bush has convened in Washington for Nov. 15 to discuss coordinated actions to stave off further financial disasters. What long-range programs can be worked out with an outgoing president at odds with several foreign countries about how much regulation of the economy is needed? Or, should Mr. Bush have the president-elect in the room with him?
Moving up the inauguration date to Jan. 20 may have sufficed for President Franklin Roosevelt. Maybe it's time to consider yet another change — inaugurating our president, say, on Nov. 10.