I admit I have a soft-spot for symbolic, feel good-events. The meeting of the outgoing and ingoing Presidents is one of my favorites. We saw it again yesterday.
Yes, part of it is reenforcing the message that we are capable of an easy transfer of power from one party to the next in the aftermath of the election. Part of it is the delight — regardless of party — in savoring the moment in which the President Elect has yet to err, yet to make bad call or incur great criticism. His slate is clean, while the outgoing President’s is anything but.
But it is something more, and especially so this year. Campaigns have a way of making all participants caricatures and buffoons. Barack Obama did his best to make George Bush the personification of malicious, pig-headed leadership, someone responsible for all our ills and credited with no achievements. We know deep down that’s not true. Whatever you think of the current President, it is a gross oversimplification. Meeting face-to-face breaks the spell. The illusion that the current President is simply a foil, a target is broken. Actually, he is an exceptionally gracious man who deserves credit at least for for a few things (e.g. winning a war).
So the pomp and the tradition enhances perspective. The incumbent isn’t just a campaign slogan. You hope the event bestows some humility on the successor and some relief for his predecessor. And for everyone else, it is the surest sign we are all moving on.