An open letter to George Bush:
Dear Mr. President,You were tremendous in Tokyo, and boffo in Beijing, but now it's time to start wowing them in Washington. Because if you don't move faster on your economic program, George, the new worries over inflation and recession could give you a shorter time on your feet than Frank Bruno.
For the moment, if the polls are to be believed, you're still standing tall. Americans traditionally want their leader to succeed, if only because, as Lyndon Johnson once drily observed, he's the only president we've got. And, so far, your minions have succeeded in deflecting blame to a familiar presidential scapegoat, the chairman of the Federal Reserve.
Alan Greenspan knew when he took the job that such demagoguery goes with the territory, even when the Fed chairman and the president are as close ideologically as you two. But not even as supple an intellect as Greenspan's can be expected to produce a perfect American economy when the White House is playing coy about the critical issues of the federal budget.
When you and Michael Dukakis managed to get through an entire presidential campaign without presenting a single credible plan for reducing the deficit, the country amiably wrote that off as just one more example of what has become a pleasant quadrennial national fantasy. But, as you've surely heard by now, you won that election, and it's actually time to present your program.
It's all well and good to listen to Jim Baker tell you that by refusing to come up with specific plans for budget reduction, you're putting the heat on Congress. But the problem is that if you leave it all up to Congress, Congress will surely do what it always does - avoid any serious cutting and wind up with a variety of hidden and open tax increases. You were against that, as I recall.
So, instead of the usual crafty calculations of how much truth the Gallup Poll says it's safe to tell the people today, may I respectfully suggest that you focus on a more frightening reality: that a new president has only a brief window of opportunity in which to make a difference, and if you fail to charge through it, the status quo will reassert itself with a vengeance - and slam the window shut.
The immediate assignment is to obey the dictates of Gramm-Rudman and get next year's deficit down by $50 billion from the $160 billion that now seems likely for 1989. If you're going to achieve that reduction, without leaving all the mechanics up to Jim Wright and Dan Rostenkowski, you'd better present - and start pushing for - a much more detailed budget program long before this year's cherry blossoms arrive along the Potomac.
Remember that Ronald Reagan accomplished nearly everything of value in his economic record during the opening months of 1981. Then, amid the ephemeral good will that arrives with each new chief executive, he was less concerned with the stand-pat tactics of "working with" Congress than with the more revolutionary task of working for meaningful change.
I realize it's more fun to be genial, but the present Washington arithmetic makes imperative that you move boldly right now - and be prepared to back up that boldness by confronting Congress with the power of the presidential veto.
For starters, you ought to tell your subordinates to stop impersonating the cartoon character Alfred E. Neuman ("What? Me worry?") every time Greenspan takes some action to curb the nation's rising inflation. That inflation is certainly not out of hand yet, but the likelihood is that it's heading above 5 percent in the next year, and that's too high for any rational analysis this side of Pollyanna.
If you're anxious to see some remedy other than rising interest rates - and who isn't? - you have the ability yourself to produce it by coming up with, and fighting for, a deficit-reduction program that will persuade Wall Street and Main Street alike that you're getting serious. Take another look at that flyaway federal budget, George; if you can't find 20 ways to shoot it down, you're not the Texas marksman your friends believe, and want, you to be.
Good luck and good hunting.