George W.: How about a goals commission?

DEAR MR. PRESIDENT:

Up until now I've been pleasantly surprised by the way you've been able to show a grasp of your presidential tasks and then push your agenda forward.

I, like many Americans, thought your popular-vote loss in the election - and the bitterness of that prolonged Florida battle with Al Gore - would lead to a deadlocked presidency with the Democrats in Congress unwilling to let you get anything done. But that hasn't happened.

I haven't yet figured out how you've been able to disarm the opposition. Maybe it's your friendly personal approach. I don't know what else; you certainly haven't been quick to back down on your initiatives. Yes, you've given ground on your tax-cut proposal, but only stubbornly. In the end, you've worked out a $1.35 trillion "compromise" tax cut with Congress that you could well call a victory, because it actually comes to more than the $1.2 trillion tax cut you had called for during the campaign.

And now that you're unveiling your defense, space, and energy programs, you certainly are indicating right from the outset that you know where as president you want to go. But it seems to me that you're much more certain that the country should move in the new directions you have charted than of how we are to get there. Therefore, I think you would pick up wider support for these initiatives if you could somehow make it abundantly clear that you are involving the best thinkers in the nation in their implementation.

Can an effective nuclear missile shield be built? Should the anti-ballistic missile treaty be abandoned? How best to deal with the defense in space? How to arrive at the best position between pushing energy production and protecting our environment? These and other difficult questions demand the thoughts and judgment of America's brainiest people.

Back in the 1950s, President Eisenhower set up a National Goals Commission made up of outstanding thinkers and achievers - charged with focusing on current as well as future goals - who could and did feed ideas into his administration. If you established such a nonpartisan commission, it might well be a valuable help to you as you implement your planning.

Also, you could thus reassure those many Americans who need such a reassurance that you are backing up your programs with the best information and guidance available in this country.

Oh, I know you already have your experts. But they have a partisan flavor. I'm talking about setting up a nonpartisan commission that would include our best and brightest people without regard to political affiliation.

And - who knows - such a commission could very well come up with ideas that might direct you toward revisions and even alternative approaches. Also, these deep thinkers might well identify other national goals that you would decide are of such vital national interest that they should be pushed forward as soon as possible.

Who should head such a commission? Well, President Eisenhower picked his brother, Milton, for that very important position. Milton, the college president, was always Ike's closest adviser. And Milton was someone who, with his strong academic credentials, could participate in the discussions of the big thinkers on the commission.

A presidential commission can be successful. Back in the late 1940s, President Truman called on former President Hoover to head a highly regarded group that would study the executive branch of the federal government in order to make it more effective. Many of the commission's recommendations were adopted. Truman has been given much credit by historians for putting that commission to work.

Please note that Truman picked a former Republican president to head the commission. It doubtless occurred to him that this lent a needed aspect of bipartisanship to the project. Doesn't that give you an idea? I'm sure you've noticed Jimmy Carter is still full of zip. I think he'd jump at the chance to once again serve his nation in such a valuable capacity.

But if you would be more comfortable with a Republican president in this key executive role (particularly after Mr. Carter's recent criticism of information stemming from your policy shapers), there is Gerry Ford. He remains quite fit, swimming many pool lengths each day. I think that he, too, would find this position enjoyable and one in which he could make a major contribution to the nation.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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