A Suggestion to President Bush on The `Vision Thing'

By , Godfrey Sperling Jr. is the Monitor's senior Washington columnist.

DEAR Mr. President: At your recent White House parties you have been to all appearances your old self, no different from the way we saw you before the Gulf crisis. You have been the same warm, open, cheerful George Bush. If Saddam Hussein has been looking, and he probably has, he has no reason to believe that his actions are causing you any overly amount of personal stress.

``I wonder if under all that outward appearance the president may not be sweating a bit,'' I observed the other night to one of your top people. ``No,'' the official said, ``he's very resolute.'' Speaker Tom Foley, meeting with reporters at a Monitor breakfast a few days later, similarly said that in his discussions with you on the crisis he had found you ``very resolute.''

But this has to be an agonizing period for you, Mr. President. You wouldn't be human if that weren't true. And I think you can take comfort in knowing that your fellow countrymen, whatever their politics may be, are aware of the travail you are going through and are noting with approval the grace with which you are facing this challenge.

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Oh, to be sure, you have plenty of critics of your Gulf policy. But the American people as a whole - it seems to me - applaud the gutsy way you have stepped up to the plate in this crisis and the outward equanimity you have maintained. No doubt about it: You have buried that false and unfair accusation of being a ``wimp'' once and for all.

I've been thinking about Abraham Lincoln of late, speculating about how he might be handling the same immense problems that you face. I'm from Illinois, and I grew up in an atmosphere that is steeped in Lincoln lore. Indeed, my grandfather, as a young man, used to banter with Lincoln, who, when he was a lawyer riding the circuit, would come through Urbana, Ill. Or so the family story goes.

It seems to me that Lincoln would hail your quick response and the masterly way you rallied the world community behind the enterprise.

But I must say that while Lincoln liked nothing better than telling a good story or joshing a bit, he would have found it demeaning to employ the language you have used to warn Saddam Hussein what is in store for him. You used a similar phrase in describing how thoroughly you thought you had whipped Geraldine Ferraro in that political debate years ago. It's juvenile. It's beneath you, Mr. President.

The historians credit Lincoln with being a president of vision. You, as you know, have been faulted in the year-end media assessments for failing as yet to show much of this quality. Perhaps this criticism is unfair. After all, your needed preoccupation with the Gulf does make it difficult to give much thought to the future. But I do have a suggestion here - if I may:

Why not set up a blue-ribbon commission to make recommendations of what the United States should do - and where it should be - in the future? Why not ask that such a group provide a Five Year Plan, a Ten Year Plan, a Twenty-Five Year Plan, and a Fifty Year Plan? The requirement should not be for details. Instead, the findings should indicate targets which, it seems to me, would provide useful guidelines for you.

You may recall that one of your favorite presidents - Dwight D. Eisenhower - set up such a goals commission, to help map the immediate future. Its findings were said, at the time, to have been helpful to those shaping Eisenhower administration programs.

But you should put your emphasis on long-range planning in setting up such a commission. You could even call it the Futures Commission. And to give it widespread acceptance and credibility why not give it bipartisan leadership and have it made up of high-quality people from all elements of our society - the sciences, arts, industry, etc. - regardless of political affiliation?

A suggestion for co-chairmen: How about Jerry Ford and Jimmy Carter? They are friends now - and like to work together.

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