Protocol is a tough taskmaster. Thus, almost every Presidential Inauguration proceeds according to tradition and the clock.
Early on the morning of Jan. 20, a butler will climb the stairs to the main guest suite at Blair House, across the street from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and tap gently on the door of the blue, white and raspberry-chintz-covered bedroom. President-Elect Barack Obama undoubtedly will already have risen from the king-sized, canopied four-poster bed he slept in for five nights.
The economic crisis that will dominate Barack Obama's first 100 days as president, and beyond, will give him a rare chance to enact big portions of his agenda that otherwise might have languished for months or years.
Not since Franklin D. Roosevelt has a new president been poised to pack so many ambitious, costly — and, under more normal circumstances, highly contentious — projects into one fast-moving bill. As in 1933, a frightening economic collapse makes the quick political work possible, choking off longer debates and possible opposition that many of the initiatives would have faced in better times.
Barack Obama and his congressional allies are gambling that the largest public spending program since World War II and a new round of tax cuts will pry the economy from the recession's iron grip and avert another Depression.
But what if they're wrong?
Some conservative economists say that additional stimulus may only prolong the grief at best, triggering runaway inflation down the road and resulting in an even more bloated federal bureaucracy.
"I think the economy will recover regardless of what Washington does. But the long-term effect here will be to reduce the standard of living of the next generation because they will be saddled with all this debt," said Chris Edwards of the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute.
President-elect Barack Obama is preparing to prohibit the use of waterboarding and harsh interrogation techniques by ordering the CIA to follow military rules for questioning prisoners, according to two U.S. officials familiar with drafts of the plans. Still under debate is whether to include a loophole that would allow exceptions in extraordinary cases.
President George W. Bush on Thursday defended his actions to avert a collapse of the financial system and protect America from another terrorist attack as he mounted a farewell bid to polish his troubled legacy.
Five days before handing over the presidency to Barack Obama, Bush delivered a televised final address to the American people in which he sought to define a White House record that some historians are already ranking among the worst ever.
Historians may judge his presidency differently but even putting the best possible face on it, George Bush leaves the presidency with the country in a mess largely of his making.
The economy is in recession, the worst since at least 1982, and the last eight years have been marked by the most anemic growth in decades in the economy, jobs and personal income.
Despite a formidable to-do list, the next president is being urged by some fellow Democrats and human rights groups to investigate the Bush administrations possible transgressions of law.
That would be a bad mistake.
When Barack Obama places his hand on Abraham Lincoln's Bible and takes the oath of office, he will assume administration of a nation that Republicans and Democrats alike believe to be in deep crisis. Fully nine in 10 Americans tell pollsters that America is "on the wrong track."
Incoming president Barack Obama has pledged to try to succeed where his predecessor George W. Bush failed by catching or killing Al-Qaeda terror network leader Osama bin Laden.
But Obama, who takes office on January 20, is likely to face many of the same challenges his predecessor did in attempting to neutralize the man behind the deadly September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States.
"Bin Laden is like the great white whale of American counter-terrorism, like Moby Dick," said James Lewis, a counter-terrorism expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
When it comes to George W. Bush's last hurrahs in the waning days of his administration, I am much in favor of the "last" and not so keen on the "hurrahs."
But it is a time for magnanimity, not malice, and for once this president has provided some leadership.
In his final news conference, he was, as The New York Times observed, by turns impassioned and defiant, reflective and light-hearted. Why, he even made little jokes with the despised media and generally gave the impression of being the dutiful decider.