Outside editorial: Obamas talk sense about the transition

Posted: Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Virtually everything Barack Obama had to say in his first post-election television interview was highly sensible. As one would expect, there weren't many surprises in the "60 Minutes" interview with him and Michelle Obama that CBS broadcast Sunday night. And there weren't many tough questions or follow-ups (exactly how are you going to go about closing Guantanamo, Mr. President-elect?). But that's OK. It was reassuring enough to hear the new first couple speaking in modest yet confident terms about the momentous personal transition ahead for them and the political challenges facing the country.

It was reassuring, for example, to hear Mr. Obama list as his "number one" priority the assembling of a national security team. Although the economic problems may seem overwhelming, he is right to stay focused on the fact that "transition periods are potentially times of vulnerability to a terrorist attack."

It was reassuring, also, to hear him stress that a bailout for the U.S. auto industry "can't be a blank check." Democrats in Congress continue to push for aid for General Motors Corp. with trivial conditions, but if GM does not restructure itself into a potentially viable concern, that money will just be thrown away.

Assistance, Obama said, must be "conditioned on labor, management, suppliers, lenders, all the stakeholders coming together with a plan - what does a sustainable U.S. auto industry look like? So that we are creating a bridge loan to somewhere as opposed to a bridge loan to nowhere. And that's, I think, what you haven't yet seen."

Obama correctly warned that, as oil prices plummet from their July high, the nation can't afford to "go from shock to trance" - can't resume its old gas-guzzling ways. The "addiction," he said, "has to be broken." (Admittedly, Obama didn't explicitly endorse our view that the best way to cure the addiction is to raise the gas tax, but we remain hopeful.) He spoke of finding a balance of financial regulation that "restore(s) a sense of trust" but doesn't "crush the entrepreneurial spirit and risk-taking of American capitalism."

But, as the Obamas' new hometown newspaper, we have to admit that none of this gladdened our heart as much as their pledge to become true Washingtonians. Some presidents have feinted in this direction and then quickly lost interest; others have made no secret of the fact that they'd rather be living in, say, Texas.

But Michelle Obama said, "I, both Barack and I, believe that we can have an impact in the D.C. area, you know, in terms of making sure we're contributing to the community that we immediately live in. That's always been something that we try to do, whether it's in our own neighborhoods or in the schools that we've attended.

"So," she added, "there's plenty to do" - which may be the last thing either of them says in the next four years with which no one can disagree.

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