LBJ did it. So did Bill Clinton. Gerald Ford did it twice, Jimmy Carter did it just five weeks before being voted out of office, then Ronald Reagan turned around and did it the following year, and three more times after that.
Ok, the “it” could be a lot of things, but I’m referring to the fact that each of these presidents addressed the annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank while they were in office.
With all of the focus on a more robust foreign policy agenda in the president’s second term (and the travel that will support it), I hope the White House will consider the symbolic importance of appearing before these institutions’ annual fall gathering. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate support for the World Bank and IMF at the highest political level.
This support is critical when proposals like the IMF quota increase or the World Bank’s general capital increase are sent to Congress for approval. Garnering votes for these institutions on the Hill has always been dicey. There is tremendous value, then, in having a long record of presidents from both parties speaking directly and affirmatively to the World Bank and IMF about their missions.
Ronald Reagan, for instance, did so in his 1981 appearance:
The IMF and the World Bank group have contributed enormously to the spread of hope of a better life throughout the world community… [These] institutions have worked tirelessly to preserve the framework for international economic cooperation and to generate confidence and competition in the world economy.
Those very lines made their way into Obama administration talking points, fact sheets, and budget presentations in support of World Bank funding thirty years later.
I hope President Obama takes the opportunity to say them himself— he has a few more chances to do so. This year’s meetings will take place October 11–13. And unlike the engagements requiring Air Force One travel that some are already grousing about in the second term, these meetings are just a few blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue. He could walk it if he wanted to.