Dear Mr. President: I've been reading and hearing of late that you are looking for a useful and, if possible, memorable project to help fill out your remaining 3-1/2 years in office.
Well, I believe I have one for you, one that could help you immeasurably in the eyes of historians.
Why not, Mr. President, set up a National Goals Commission to seek out where this nation should go in the next century? You have moved in that direction by setting an AIDS vaccine as a goal for the next decade. But why not extend your search for national targets for all of the next 100 years?
A commission based on precedence
Actually, President Eisenhower established a National Goals Commission, with brother Milton in charge.
This effort in national planning got off to a good start but never fulfilled its promise as Ike's interest in the project faded.
There have been other rather half-hearted presidential efforts to set goals in previous administrations.
President Ford sent his vice president, Nelson Rockefeller, on a fact-finding and goal-setting mission in which Rockefeller met with leaders in a number of cities throughout the United States. That operation soon bogged down into hearings that were mainly complaint sessions.
A few years later President Carter gave an assistant a goal-seeking assignment that didn't go far, either. Goal-setting, in a careful, well-researched way, was again consigned to the ash heap.
So it seems clear to me that to make a national goal search a truly successful project, the president must involve himself fully in it and stay with it all the way.
Such a commission can be successful. Back in the late 1940s President Truman called on former President Hoover to head a group that would study the executive branch of the federal government in order to make it more effective. Many of that 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 that 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 have noticed that your old opponent - and newfound friend - George Bush still is full of zip. He looks like he is just waiting to throw his energy into a project of this kind.
I don't know how you would structure such a commission - one that has Mr. Bush running the operation but with you always remaining the driving and sustaining force. This would mean far more involvement than Truman had to provide in a very different kind of undertaking.
For a new - and savvy - partnership
But if you put this partnership together in a spirit of amity and friendly cooperation, you should be able to make it go and keep it going until you arrive at a successful conclusion. This working partnership would call upon both you and Bush for more than a considerable amount of political savvy. But you both have that quality in abundance.
Again I want to emphasize if I may, Mr. President, that it seems to me the project's success would depend on your active and continuous participation. One speech won't be enough. You simply cannot indicate that setting national targets is a top priority and then turn your gaze elsewhere, leaving George Bush - or whomever you choose to be the hands-on manager of the operation - to push forward alone.
You have always struck me as a superb seller of ideas, Mr. Clinton, one of the best I have seen in the presidency.
Well, here's your chance to use this talent in selling a project that, if well executed, can only lead to a better United States and a better world.