Ten Tips for Clinton As He Takes Office
AFTER a long campaign and an uneven, often trying transition period, Bill Clinton is finally president. Soon the grand festivities of inauguration week will be over, and he will have the chance to provide the leadership for change he has spoken about, sometimes eloquently, for many months.
The dynamics of the American economy, national security, and the health of our democracy increasingly revolve around the presidency. This was not the precise intention of the founders of this republic. Yet the permanently preeminent presidency is the product of forces that continue to roll and events that cannot be undone. Unique, necessary, and always some what dangerous, the American presidency conceived 206 years ago was a brilliant gamble, and it has served us well.
The enduring challenge for us is to encourage the presidential leadership that we need while ensuring the strength of alternative constitutional processes that will guarantee responsible and accountable democratic leadership.
We look to President Clinton now to define, defend, and promote our nation's basic values. We look to him and his new Cabinet to provide the sense of direction and much of the vision that a nation this complex continually needs.
We ask him to work with Congress and major interest groups to prepare new programs and legislation to treat the problems of the nation - and we ask especially that they move rapidly to get our economic house in order and promote greater integrity in our election and representational processes.
Expectations are high; they always are on these occasions. Yet Clinton is winning even more favorable ratings, support, and attention than usual. In part this may be due to his endless campaigning. Yet it is also because so many Americans now yearn for creative initiatives and breakthroughs at home and abroad.
What follows are 10 suggestions for the new team in the White House. They are the suggestions of a seasoned White House watcher and a former White House aide, and they borrow from scholarship on the modern American presidency.
1. Insist that everyone on the White House staff and in the Cabinet reread and grasp the meaning of the United States Constitution, particularly the all-important Articles I and II as well as the Bill of Rights. Too many recent White House aides and Cabinet officials have either disregarded or failed to understand the principles of constitutionalism that govern our political system. The Clinton team should read Louis Fisher's excellent "The Politics of Shared Power" and Terry Eastland's new and provocati ve "Energy in the Executive." The majority report of the Iran-contra congressional hearings and the Tower Commission Report are also required reading for those who would truly appreciate separation of powers as they ought to be.
2. The Cabinet and the White House staff must turn the administration into an effective learning organization. However prepared the new recruits may think they are, much of the rushed preparation for presidential leadership is on-the-job learning. New issues arise all the time. New responses and appropriate answers will arise only if the White House is designed as an effective place to learn from past mistakes and as a place that reaches out to those who can and will help point in the right direction. Ev ery administration learns anew that what is required to win the White House is different from what is required to govern the nation.
3. Don't underestimate the importance of the symbolic functions of the American presidency and don't listen to the critics who are beginning to scoff at the recent use of symbolic rituals. The American presidency is more than just a political and constitutional institution. It is a focus for intense emotions. The presidency serves our basic need for a visible and representative national symbol to which we can turn with our hopes and aspirations.
FROM Washington and Jefferson to our day, presidents have personalized the job and helped remind Americans of the republic's meaning. Each president is asked in some way to reaffirm the greatness of our ideals and define the promise of a more exalted future. Much of this co-mingling of the political and the culturally symbolic in presidential performance is an understandable human response to societal yearnings; leaders often have no choice but to fulfill tribal roles, no matter how pragmatic, educated, sophisticated, or secular the society. The human heart ceaselessly reinvents rituals - and at least a touch of royalty and shamanism.
4. Experiment with and refine notions of electronic town meetings. Ross Perot was not the first to suggest this idea. New technologies permit new kinds of interactive political conversations on issues that people care about and want to talk about with their national leaders.
5. The president and Vice President Gore should meet with Mr. Perot, Paul Tsongas, and former New Hampshire Sen. Warren Rudman and win their support for an aggressive deficit-reduction program. These leaders plainly will want to go further than the president; but any support they can give could prove enormously helpful in winning congressional approval for needed program cuts and revenue increases.
6. The US now has five living ex-presidents. We also have several living former presidential candidates - like Barry Goldwater, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, and Michael Dukakis - from the major parties. All of them could be enlisted to help educate the nation about some of the priorities we must establish. Use these elder statesmen. Ask them to the White House, get their counsel, and put them to work helping the new administration break the gridlock that has stymied productive policy leadership for m ore than a decade. Scores of former Cabinet officers and other leaders, such as Jesse Jackson and Jack Kemp, also could be enlisted to help in this kind of common cause.
7. Both Perot and Jerry Brown were shaped by, and in part helped lead, millions of voters who yearned to see serious political reform implemented in our constitutional democracy. The Clinton administration shares these concerns but has been vague about what it will do. Why not establish a major presidential commission, with Mr. Gore as chairman, to survey the needed reforms and fashion a bipartisan coalition that can unite behind a package of reforms that will lessen the role of money, secrecy, and speci al connections in American political life?
8. The president should hold monthly White House press conferences of the type John Kennedy used so well. Many presidents have shared notions to this effect. Then when the going gets rough, they retreated and seldom were available to answer regular grillings from the press. Reviving Ronald Reagan's custom of giving short radio talks to the nation on Saturdays is another possibility. The president has already indicated that he will hold town meetings and make more bus trips to visit with and listen to ave rage Americans, and this is to be applauded.
9. Cultivate and use the ample talent in the career civil-service staffs in the Office of Management and Budget and in many similar offices in the executive office of the president and in the departments. Likewise, there are dozens of think tanks now operating in or near Washington. Why not commission them to work directly on some of the problems the White House is wrestling with? Part of the job of being an effective president is unlocking the energy and talent in the nation and harnessing these in the nation's service.
10. Finally, the president should be encouraged to pace himself and take the occasional vacation and, at least once a month, take a long weekend retreat to Camp David or elsewhere so he will be physically, spiritually, and mentally fit to deal with the inevitable emergencies that arise. A president needs to set this example for his staff and Cabinet as well. Mr. Reagan may have overdone this type of example-setting, yet most presidents drive themselves and their staffs almost to the breaking point.
Both the Clinton team and the American people need to have realistic expectations for what a president can do. Our early high expectations on new presidents often serve to drive them to excessive commitments, excessive traveling, and excessive promises. We might remember what John Steinbeck once observed:
"We give the president more work than a man can do, more responsibility than a man should take, more pressure than a man can bear. We abuse him often and rarely praise him. We wear him out, use him up, eat him up. And with all this, Americans have a love for the president that goes beyond loyalty or party nationality; he is ours and we exercise the right to destroy him."