A call for a national goals study

DEAR Mr. President: You have clearly cast yourself as a futurist. No one could listen to your State of the Union address without becoming aware of your continuing desire to shake things up and find new ways. Further, your dream of a nuclear-defense umbrella is one that is beginning to pick up a lot of adherents, both here and abroad.

And for the short-term future your tax reform provides a most important goal, one which, if achieved, would be a significant achievement.

But Mr. President, wouldn't it enhance your second term and history's estimate of your presidency if you put together an organized effort -- a presidential commission -- to look carefully at America's tomorrow? That is, why not enlist the best thinkers of the United States to come up with answers to where the country should be, and -- with specifics -- what it should be doing, 10, 20, and even 50 years from now?

Big corporations often set up study groups that tell them where they should be going way down the road, years hence, and how to get there.

And you doubtless recall that President Eisenhower, in his second term, set up a bipartisan goals commission. At the same time he established a Republican commission to look at where the party should be heading.

This Eisenhower initiative had great merit. And much time was expended in the projects by important people in all walks of life. But somehow the two-track approach was confusing to the public. Whatever the reasons, those commendable efforts were soon forgotten.

President Ford also saw the need to look to the nation's future. He had Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller chair public hearings in several cities at which civic leaders gave their views on what the nation's goals should be. This project, too, never went too far. And President Carter, too, tried -- unsuccessfully -- to provide a national blueprint for the future.

When traveling around the United States, one finds people often complaining that their national leaders do not do a better job of looking ahead.

So, Mr. President, you would undoubtedly win a favorable public response if you set up a national goals commission, made up of outstanding thinkers and achievers who could feed their ideas -- and those they solicited from others of equally high standing -- into recommendations for the future.

But to make the project work, it would need the kind of help from you that no such effort -- even Eisenhower's -- has received. It would need a public unveiling -- perhaps in a TV address -- where you made it plain that this is one of your top priorities. Then, when the commission completed its work, you could again underscore the importance of the findings in an address to the nation.

It seems to me that for the goals commission to be successful -- and stand as a reference point for future administrations -- you, the President, should head it. It should be the President's National Goals Commission.

And then your very best people should be actively involved in the work. Why not have the vice-president as the executive director? He would actually be setting up and running the operation. Mr. Bush could give the project the loving attention it needs. And, further, he might well find this search for national objectives quite useful personally as he built up his arsenal of ideas for his likely run for the presidency.

I understand that you have been looking for an important post for Charles Percy to fill. You could put him at the right arm of the vice-president. It might even be a Bush-Percy cochairmanship. You may remember that it was Mr. Percy's valuable work in providing leadership for Eisenhower's search for goals that did much to bring the Illinois business executive to national attention.

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

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