Don't Scrimp on The `Vision Thing'

DEAR Mr. President-elect:

Perhaps President Bush's fatal flaw was his inability to address what he called "the vision thing" appropriately. Most people (despite the way the election went) view Mr. Bush as a good man, a man who had tried to do the right thing. But they wish he had been more of an inspirational president.

So now you have the chance to lift the sights of the American people. Your inaugural address will be watched closely to see if you can accomplish that vital task.

Former President Kennedy provides the best example of how this should be done with his call to all Americans to "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

As you choose your message and your words for your inaugural, I wonder if you would care to hear what a boyhood friend of mine - who became a prominent Illinois attorney - has to say in his Christmas letter. In a relatively few words he delivers a message that I think many people are hoping they will be hearing from you.

"The call this election year has been for change - from the politicians, the media, and the general public," William B. Browder writes. "The emphasis has been upon change at the top. People seem to want our leaders to do something that will trickle down to all, bringing prosperity and solving our economic and social problems."

But, he adds, "It would appear that the changes that are really needed are changes in all of us - from the bottom up. This Christmas is an appropriate time to reflect upon the improvements that are essential if we are to realize our potential as a nation.

"What we truly need are revolutionary changes in our attitudes and our ethical and moral conduct in all areas of life. This is the responsibility of every citizen of this country."

One need go no further than the morning papers to see the need for strengthening America's moral fiber. One story tells of a new poll showing "the prevalence in the workplace of sexual harassment." Another tells of new killings in the inner city; predictably, drugs were involved. And we read that some congressmen may be indicted in connection with their overdrafts at the House bank.

Let's turn to your economics seminar in Little Rock where, as one assessment put it, you showed "a remarkable grasp of big themes and small details." You also got an "A" for patience and stamina.

Yet in an otherwise complimentary editorial in the New York Times I saw these words: "As scores of participants chimed in, the conversation turned confusing, contradictory, self-serving, and boring. Few asked to be taxed more or volunteered to give up their favorite federal spending program."

It is time to call upon Americans to be willing to sacrifice in order to help the country move forward. It takes intestinal fortitude for a president to issue that call. But it is something that people need to hear, and I think they will honor it.

Most Americans, I believe, are fully aware of the massive federal deficit. Ross Perot did much to put this problem squarely before the public. And now I read that one of your advisers, John P. White, who drafted Mr. Perot's economic plan, says you must take your economic blueprint back to the drawing board because budget deficits over the next several years are going to be larger than forecasted.

In my view, the public is ready - even anxious - to be told that if you are to get the country going again, many Americans will have to be ready to give up something. People want to have their sights raised to the vision of a revitalized country - brought about, in part, by their willingness to accept sacrifices.

But your presidential vision, of course, must be larger than that. Why not incorporate and expand on my friend's final words: "What a wonderful change we could introduce to the world in 1993 if we would perceptibly upgrade our moral and spiritual lives."

Those words would, I think, be welcomed by a public that yearns to be told by a president how individuals can contribute to a better America and a better world.

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