When New President Meets Old, It's Not Always Pretty

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Americans like to think they perfected the peaceful transfer of power from old regime to new: no crimes, no coups, no blood in the streets. But that doesn't mean the future Former Leader of the Free World has an easy time handing over the keys to the White House. It's not just ego that has a way of fouling up this transition; both parties have one eye on the history books, as the outgoing President airbrushes the epilogue and the arriving one prepares the prologue.

This election, given the circumstances and transformational mood, has been compared to Franklin Roosevelt's ouster of Herbert Hoover, another transition that occurred amid economic carnage. Happily for all concerned, this time both the incoming and outgoing President appear inclined to play nicer than their predecessors did.

It didn't help in 1932 that the two men neither liked nor trusted each other: Hoover called Roosevelt a "chameleon on plaid," while F.D.R. preferred the image of Hoover as a "fat, timid capon." In the final days of the campaign, Hoover denounced Roosevelt's "nonsense ... tirades ... glittering generalizations ... ignorance" and "defamation" on his way to losing to him in 42 of 48 states. Since Inauguration Day was not until March 4, 1933, and with the global financial system in tatters, there was urgent need for action — but Hoover's efforts to reach out to Roosevelt in the name of bipartisan cooperation were dismissed by critics as his trying to reverse the election results and force Roosevelt to agree to an agenda that would have effectively gutted the New Deal. Hoover's defenders, meanwhile, saw him as a "man on the verge of victory," notes biographer Richard Norton Smith, "who had arrested the downward spiral only to see it slip out of control through the irresponsible behavior of his successor."

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