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The Earliest Transition Team Ever*

As Marc Ambinder reported this morning, the Obama campaign is putting together a post-campaign "transition team" to ease Obama from candidate to executive. Several Obama staffers confirmed to Ambinder that the campaign has begun transitional planning, though a formal announcement will not be made until the fall.

University of Chicago public policy professor William Howell, who specializes in presidential history, is shocked by how early Obama has assembled the team. "I can't think of another instance where this has happened," Howell said, and he thinks the difference has to do with our sped-up electoral process:

"For so much of American history, the conventions were real events. It was unfathomable that, when the action was all in the conventions, any candidate would form a transition team before the convention.

But he's smart to prepare. There are general challenges just in terms of learning--who are you going to appoint? What are the first days going to look like? So, it makes really good sense that he's forming this. I think those challenges are compounded by the fact that he's going to be assuming a presidency that's undergone radical changes by the Republican regime. The first days of the Clinton presidency, remember, were rough-going. And, like Clinton, we have a young candidate. Since there are going to be claims that he doesn't have the experience, to the extent that he can appear organized and on top of things, he wants to do that."

There's another way to look at this, of course. By planning his assumption of office before officially receiving the nomination, Obama sets himself up for accusations of presumptuousness and egotism. During his Berlin speech today, at which he was welcomed with seeming rapture, he spoke to the "people of the world" as if he were already president of the United States of America and all she represents. The McCain camp was quick to read some irony into this.

But if Obama does manage to conquer the general election, he'll be that much closer to legislative, administrative, and emotional preparation for the relatively demanding-sounding job: "President of the World."    

*Okay, so it turns out that Obama hasn't assembled the earliest transition team ever. Bush put one together around this time in 2000, and Reagan began making post-election plans in early 1980. Also, according to NBC, McCain is "already working on policy and political proposals so they could hit the ground running." I regret the error. Yet, given the perception that Obama can hold himself in high regard--and fairly or not, as a result of how CW works, he has had to grapple with that perception more than McCain has this campaign--I think the words of E. Pendleton James, director of the Office of Presidential Personnel under Reagan, on building a presidential transition team could've proved helpful in this case: "Do it, but don't let anyone know it."   

UPDATE: We've received a couple calls from the Obama campaign noting that McCain went on TV yesterday and outright said that he has a transition team in place, while Obama has yet to confirm--or deny--Ambinder's initial report. Would McCain have offered that information on television had news of the Obama team's plan not already been aired? It's impossible to say with certainty. But we just wanted to set the chronology straight.

--Nicole Allan