There's a lot of play-acting involved when a President-elect of the opposition party is received at the White House by the outgoing President.
It's not quite as awkward as when the incoming Chief Executive actually defeated the incumbent, as was the case in 1980 when Jimmy Carter welcomed Ronald Reagan to the Oval Office; or in 1992, when the first President Bush had to offer smiles and a handshake to Bill Clinton.
Imagine how you'd feel if you'd been fired and were then required to show your replacement around your office and house?
Barack Obama didn't beat George W. Bush, but he did beat him up rhetorically. Mr. Obama spent most of the last two years repeatedly making the case that Mr. Bush needlessly took the nation to war in Iraq and ran the economy into a ditch. Not the kind of verbiage that makes for instant cordiality.
And the worst thing Mr. Obama felt he could say about John McCain was that his election would amount to a third term for the Bush Administration.
But Messrs. Bush and Obama are both top-flight politicians. They know how to put politics aside - especially when the whole world is watching. And President Bush wants to be seen rolling out the red carpet for his successor.
"Ensuring that this transition is seamless is a top priority for the rest of my time in office," said Mr. Bush in his weekly radio address on Saturday. "My administration will work hard to ensure that the next president and his team can hit the ground running."
During 31 years at the White House, retired Chief Usher Gary Walters has been witness to many such meetings of the outgoing and incoming Presidents.
"It's usually very congenial," he said in a . "I think that people around the world marvel at the transition that the United States has from one president to another - and in this case from one party to another."
He calls it a "marvelous trait of our American democracy" to see the President arm-in-arm with the President-elect.
It's also a marvelous example of politicians putting their personal feelings aside for the good of the nation.
By Mark Knoller