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Op-Ed

The Presidential Transition

Strobe Talbott

It’s hard to recall a confluence of events that has so dramatized the importance of a presidential election: a global financial crisis—and one that began in the U.S., no less; American troops deployed in two wars; long-term tasks facing the nation in the realms of energy security, health care reform, education and competitiveness.

When voting concludes tomorrow night, this year’s contest will be remembered for many things. For the first time in 80 years, neither the sitting president nor vice president chose to run, so we had wide open primaries in both parties. This prompted sixteen candidates to seek the nominations of the two major parties.

At the end of the process, both nominees were sitting senators. One party nominated an African American, who had defeated a former first lady in a nearly eighteen-month primary contest. The other nominated a war hero, who then selected the first woman as vice presidential nominee of his party.

Over the course of this epic contest, Brookings experts provided advice to candidates from both parties. Through our Opportunity 08 project, we helped both the contenders and the public focus on critical issues facing the nation, providing ideas, policy forums and information on a broad range of domestic and foreign policy questions.

Since its launch in February 2007, Opportunity 08 held 22 policy forums and offered more than 30 new ideas for addressing America’s challenges. We hosted senior advisors to both Senator McCain and Senator Obama as part of bipartisan policy discussions on Iraq and the economy. And we held regional forums in six battleground states.

After the election, we are committed to ensuring that America’s most experienced, independent and trusted think tank continues to address the nation’s challenges. Starting on Election Day, we will re-examine and refine our advice to the president-elect in the wake of a historic campaign and an unprecedented global financial crisis.

Fittingly enough, our transition-related activities will begin in cyberspace even before the election results are known. Today we’ll launch a new section of our web site, with ideas, background materials and multi-media resources focusing on a dozen key challenges facing the president-elect. And on Election Day we’ll host a live, online discussion of the issues hosted by David Mark of Politico.

During the 77 days from the election to the Inauguration, Brookings experts will offer twelve “Memos to the President” on these policy priorities, starting with climate change and expanding across the spectrum of domestic and global challenges. Weekly events will discuss the factors accelerating (or inhibiting) progress, and the conversation will continue with research, commentary and a weekly podcast.

The project will also feature advice on the nuts and bolts of assuming power from scholars and former officials who have been there, including a new workbook on the transition from longtime presidential hand Steve Hess. Steve and Darrell will kick off our event series on November 7, with an assessment of the policy environment facing the new president and his cabinet. We’ll also have the benefit of Ken Duberstein’s advice as he and Leon Panetta assess the election results and the post-election policy environment.

Re-establishing, then ensuring the stability and integrity of financial markets has certainly shot to the top of the next president’s to-do list, but that list still includes other urgent needs that cannot be downgraded, to say nothing of triaged. So I hope you’ll be with us (in person or via the Internet) as we address issues such as keeping America competitive in the new economy; improving the efficacy of mechanisms for fighting poverty; establishing new ways of dealing with failed and failing states; and putting in place an effective climate control regime as a successor to Kyoto.

In short, the next president is going to need all the help he can get—from at home and abroad – and you can be sure he’ll get the best from Brookings.

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