A LESSON IN CONTRASTS…. In July, the Obama campaign began putting staffers in place for a possible presidential transition, which is what most candidates have done for decades in the months leading up to an election. Fox News and the McCain campaign characterized the move as “unprecedented” and “presumptuous,” but the opposite is true — credible candidates have done this in every cycle for a generation.

And, of course, they should. The candidate who wins on Nov. 4 will have less than 11 weeks to prepare to take over an executive branch in the middle of a financial crisis and two wars.

About a month ago, after McCain had slammed Obama for even considering a transition team, McCain launched his own transition effort, tapping — I kid you not — a lobbyist for Freddie Mac.

So, how are the transition teams doing? Sam Stein has a fascinating report, which tells us quite a bit about how the two candidates’ operations approach their responsibilities.

…Sen. Barack Obama has organized an elaborate well-staffed network to prepare for his possible ascension to the White House, while Sen. John McCain has all but put off such work until after the election.

The Democratic nominee has enlisted the assistance of dozens of individuals — divided into working groups for particular federal agencies — to produce policy agendas and lists of recommended appointees. As evidence of their advanced preparations, officials provided a copy of the strict ethics guidelines that individuals working on the transition effort are required to sign.

John McCain, by contrast, has done little. Campaign spokespersons did not respond to requests for elaboration. But one official with direct knowledge, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, expressed concern with McCain’s approach. The Arizona Senator has instructed his team to not spend time on the transition effort, according to the source, both out of a desire to have complete focus on winning the election as well as a superstitious belief that the campaign shouldn’t put the cart before the horse.

Look, I realize it may sound premature to work on a transition before an election, but this is pretty important work. Presidents need staffs who can take over a massive executive and complicated branch bureaucracy on Day One. Failing to take this seriously now may make the nation vulnerable come January.

The Obama campaign seems to be a model of discipline and organization: “Obama’s transition effort has been organized into roughly a dozen teams of six to eight people to plot out the approach for each agency, according to a Democratic official. The ethics code governing the process prohibits staff from working on subjects that could be deemed a financial conflict of interests, either to that member or that member’s family.”

The McCain campaign has no ethics policy in place for the transition, and the head of the team has reportedly held a few conference calls.

One approach is deeply irresponsible. The other approach is Obama’s.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.