A political wish list for 2003

I've made out my wish list for next year early.

1. Let's do something about all that money that candidates must spend on television these days. In the midterm elections the candidates spent a record-breaking amount of some $1 billion on political ads on broadcast television.

It won't be a full answer. But a bill sponsored by Sens. John McCain, Russell Feingold, and Richard Durbin would establish a broadcast voucher system that would enable federal candidates and parties to air a limited amount of free advertising.

The TV corporations are rolling in the money they take in during elections. A very attractive provision of the bill is one that requires television and radio stations to air a minimum of two hours per week of free candidate and issue-centered programming in the period before elections.

"The benefits of this proposal are not only for candidates," says Mr. McCain. "Free air time can better inform the public about candidates and invite viewers to become more engaged in their government by learning more about individuals seeking to represent them."

The main push behind this reform legislation comes from a former Washington Post political writer, Paul Taylor, who now heads the Alliance for Better Campaigns, which has assembled a coalition of more than 50 national groups that support free airtime. Of the bill, Taylor says: "It will open up our political process to more ideas and more candidates, including those without vast personal wealth or special-interest backing."

Let's get this bill passed.

2. But another wish that I fervently hope will come true is also related to campaign financing: the fundamental change in the rules for financing federal campaigns passed by Congress in March, which is now in effect.

A basic reform established by this legislation is a rule against "soft money," money raised by the political parties. It is reported that the Republican Party raised about $222 million and the Democratic Party about $200 million in the last campaign.

So the legislation has been passed - what's to worry?

Well, there's a constitutional test the legislation now must pass in the courts. And parties' strategists are already working on ways to circumvent the restrictions. Moreover, the Federal Election Commission seems to be supporting these plans to undercut this major reform.

I'm wishing - and hoping - that the constitutional challenge will fail and that the FEC will then get tough in backing the restrictions.

3. I wish that the president would set up a goals commission, headed, perhaps, by a former president (or maybe two former presidents: Carter and Ford get along well together) to look into the future and determine what this country's objectives should be for 50 years from now - and what we should be doing to get there.

In such a difficult endeavor there would be a need, of course, for input from those regarded as the best thinkers and planners in all walks of life: the arts, the sciences, education, industry, business, and so on.

Years ago, President Truman created the Hoover Commission, headed by former President Herbert Hoover, to reorganize the federal government and make it more efficient. For a long time now the American people have been feeling the huge benefits from that commission's fine work.

Successful corporations look well into the future as they make their plans. Why shouldn't our government?

4. Finally, I'd like to see presidential speechwriters get more credit - something I've been plumping for some time!

No, I don't mean that when the president makes a State of the Union or any other major address he or she would have to give credit to the person or persons who actually wrote the speech after incorporating the president's ideas.

But I think in the interest of accuracy the name or names of the writers should be appended to the speech. Historians would want that, too. They wouldn't have needed that addition on Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, of course. Lincoln, I certainly want to believe, wrote his own moving prose.

Eisenhower's best remembered speech was his final one as president when he warned the country of the "military industrial complex" and the hold it was getting on our country. Yet it was his speechwriter, Malcolm Moose, who came up with that phrase and persuaded Ike to use it.

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