Unsolicited tips for the President; Memorandum for the President: A Strategic Approach to Domestic Affairs in the 1980s, by Ben W. Heineman Jr., and Curtis A. Hessler. New York: Random House.
The advice is pretty straightforward. And we have certainly heard it before: Decide what you want; stick with it; think comprehensively; use your peripheral vision; set realistic goals; establish your reputation for competence.
Whom is it for? Wide-eyed, bushy-tailed college graduates seeking their first job? Or perhaps a little more mature group with an eye toward climbing the ladder?
Not this time. This unsolicited guidance is for the most responsibility-charged executive in the nation. That's right. The President of the United States. It comes in the form of a 400-page "memorandum" to the chief executive. And although it doesn't exactly guarantee him success on the job, it does focus on avoiding failure.
The Heineman and Hessler formula, written tom the President (in this case, Ronald Reagan, although their manuscript was completed before last November's election), flatly states that he needs a "strategic battle plan" if he is to be successful in shaping policy and holding tight the political reins.
The authors -- both assistant secretaries with responsibility for social policy in the Carter administration (Heineman with Health, Education, and Welfare [now Health and Human Resources]; Hessler with Treasury) -- deal solely with domestic problems facing the President.
They lament Jimmy Carter's failures and attribute them in part to overloading lawmakers with a flotilla of major proposals in the first 18 months in office; a misjudgment of Congress and the mores of Capitol Hill by presidential aides; and the failure of policy advisers to confer among themselves.
A president's time is limited, Heineman and Hessler stress. He must focus his fire, pinpoint top priorities, make tough choices in chiseling out a "doable" domestic program. For example, if his main goal is to right the economy and he chooses big tax cuts for business to spur productivity, he cannot then reduce the rising tax burden for the average American.
Are you listening, Ronald Reagan? Nobody said it would be easy. And the "Memorandum" authors remind you that you can't win them all. There are necessary trade-offs. You can't vacillate or try to be all-things-to- all-people.
Although at times a bit too pedantic for the general reader, this book does offer some useful recommendations for a presidential battle plan to attack domestic problems as well as suggestions for revamping the Executive Office to minimize internal conflicts over decisionmaking, advice-giving, and coordinating authority. For instance, the authors would greatly upgrade the role of the chief of staff, who would sit above all other White House aides with the exception of the vice- president.
But mainly, they are talking concepts and approach. Borrowing from Machiavelli and more recently historian James MacGregor Burns, "Memorandum" uses the metaphor of the lion and the fox.
"If a President in the 1980s is to survive politically, to act like a lion if events allow, he must first practice the political arts as a fox," they insist.
In other words, foxlike qualities -- shrewdness, an intuitive sense of timing , a sharp awareness of existing limits, and the skill to manuever around them -- are essential.
"Memorandum's" thesis is hard to criticize. It doesn't proffer the strategic approach as a sure-fire route to success. But Heineman and Hessler's bottom line is that without a structured presidential battle plan, "failure is virtually certain."
How much of a factor this was in defeating President Carter, or at least in damaging his credibility, is still unclear.But it's worth examining, as is this volume.