The White House(Postmaster: Hold for new tenant.)
First of all, congratulations! It was a tough campaign, a real street fight toward the end. Nobody will ever call you a wimp again, George. Nice going.
I hate to tell you, though, I think as you start the new job it's going to get even rougher. I know, there's a lot of high-minded talk these days about how everybody has to come together for the good of the country, but as a longtime resident of Washington, you know when they bury the hatchet down there, it's usually in somebody's back.
Some of the Democrats have even said that the 1992 campaign started on Nov. 9. They're serving notice on you already. How does the thought of parading through Iowa again in the middle of winter just a little more than three years from now grab you? Especially if you have to explain even bigger budget deficits and more red ink in trade. That's the box the Democrats are planning on you being in, you know.
Well, I've got an idea how to turn the tables on them. Why not get the election over early - or at least lock it up? Here's how you can swing it.
Pretend that the election is a year from now, not four years away, and then do everything you can to lose it. Aim for the lowest poll ratings since the invention of clipboards 12 months from now, and 48 months from now you'll be re-elected in a landslide.
Do that by tackling the budget and trade deficits right away. You're going to have to deal with them anyway, so why not turn even meaner than you did on the campaign trail and get the tough decisions out of the way the first year. Drag out that old "ask not" line from Kennedy's inaugural and tell the American people that all the promises are off. Tell them you had your fingers crossed. Tell them you're asking for sacrifice, real sacrifice to turn some of our problems around fast.
They won't like it. They'll say you double-crossed them. But you've taken the heat before, and when 1992 comes around, they'll forget how mad they were at you.
They'll forget because if you do something about our twin deficits fast, they really will be better off than they are right now. That's one promise you can say you kept. And that's the only one that matters, isn't it?
I don't envy you, George. The Democrats are already licking their chops thinking of 1992 because they expect to have a winning issue to run on. Will it be the recession following five unprecedented years of prosperity? Will it be another Oct. 19? Will all this buying up and breaking up of corporations with junk bonds and pension funds cause a financial panic? Will our debt load finally begin to crush us? Will real incomes and living standards continue to decline? Will the foreigners holding our IOUs have more clout in Washington than even you?
These were things that weren't discussed much in this campaign because so far we've been lucky and have managed to keep the economy on a roll. But can we stay lucky for four more years?
You showed us a lot in the campaign. You spotted the other guy 17 points coming out of the blocks and buried him 40 states to 10. That's moxie. That's the kind of grit it'll take to grab our twin deficits by the throat and squeeze some common sense back into our fiscal and trade policies.
I know that you've had some unkind things to say about the National Economic Commission, but the 12 of us on that panel were told to come up with some ideas on how to cut the budget deficit, and so far we haven't found any that don't have some pain attached. We know, and we think you know, that no solution will be found without compromise, both in the White House and in Congress. And what have to be compromised are pet programs, political partisanship and even previous promises.
In my reading of history, the great presidents have been the ones with the wisdom and the guts to achieve sensible compromises. This problem cries out for compromise, and if there isn't a compromise in 1989, then there's certain to be a dandy campaign issue in 1992.
On trade, our other big problem, what the country needs from you more than anything else is a sense of direction. Where the hell are we going? Are the '90s going to be a repeat of the '80s? Are we going to continue to get creamed in the world market? Or are we going to stand on our hind legs and defend ourselves?
You know, George, every President needs a "doctrine." Truman had one, Eisenhower had one. I've always liked Mr. Monroe's doctrine, the one that told the rest of the world that this part of the planet was ours, so don't push us too far.
Why dorn't you announce the "Bush Doctrine" on trade? It doesn't have to be 1,125 pages long like the trade bill passed this year. One strong sentence will do:
"Since the economic interests of the United States of America cannot be maintained without a reasonable balance of trade, we reserve the right to determine and enforce the acceptable limit of penetration of the American market by any nation that does not assure reciprocal American penetration of that nation's home market."
That sounds officious enough to satisfy the lawyers, but all it means is that if somebody is running a big trade surplus with us, you can get on the phone and tell them that if they want to continue to sell here, they'll have to send over some buy orders.
The country cannot afford to run another cumulative trade deficit of more than three-quarters of a trillion dollars, like we have in the '80s. No explanation needed, and no need to blame anybody; we simply can't afford it, period.
Now, George, you're probably getting more advice these days than you know what to do with. Most of it's free. (Mine is only a half a buck, or whatever this newspaper cost you.) I'm just trying to save you some grief in a few years.
I can't imagine that almost a year of campaigning was much fun. And the worst part about winning is that you have to do it all over again. Why not make it easy on yourself. Tackle these big issues fast. Get the sacrificing and the compromising over with. And set yourself up for another big win in four years.
P.S. Oh, about some new revenues. Everybody knows we need them. Don't worry about what you said in the campaign. After all, how many people know how to read lips?
Why don't you announce the "Bush Doctrine" on trade? It doesn't have to be 1,125 pages long like the trade bill passed this year. One strong sentence will do: