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Dialogues on Presidential Leadership

To the President-Elect

Spring Symposium and Awards Dinner
Washington, D.C. 1999

  1. The White House and Congress need to end this acrimonious partisanship-now! The public is fed up with it, and effective leadership is being destroyed (Breaux, Hagel, King, Abshire, Brock, Gergen, Griffin, Roberts).

    • The President is not President of the Congress, but of the country. He has to be a unifier who raises our sights, our hopes, our dreams, our aspirations (Griffin, Brock)

    • The President must first build a team that will enable him to work with Congress (Hagel)

    • "Trust is the coin of the realm" (Harlow, Abshire)

  2. The 2000 election is a watershed event (Gergen), which will:

    • Decide who controls all three branches of government

    • Give the next President the opportunity to appoint perhaps three Supreme Court justices

    • Lead to Congressional redistricting, based on the new census

    • Likely set the tone, if not define a vision, for the new century

  3. In the near-term, however, the next President likely will face a familiar political landscape:

    • The number of Senate Democrats and Republicans probably won't change much (Barone, King, Griffin, Black, Gergen)

    • Democrats may realize some gains in the House (Gergen, King, Black). If they gain a majority, you will see more experienced committee chairs (Barone)

      Funded in part with a grant from the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation

  4. During the first 100 days, the President can provide transformational leadership on a few select issues-indeed, the President alone can lead on certain issues:

    • Medicare and Social Security reform (Breaux, Penner, Primus)

    • National security/foreign policy/defense reform (Abshire, Hagel, Schlesinger)

    • He would be wise to pick the "low-hanging fruit"-campaign finance reform, a new budget framework and Internet privacy (King)

  5. Thereafter, the President must form creative coalitions with members of both parties and govern, with the help of Congress, from the center (Breaux, Abshire, Black, Gifffin, King).

    • "The Republicans have no real sense of party cohesion right now" (King)

    • The President should not try to "roll the people on the Hill" (Gergen)

    • Like LBJ, the next President will need to cross party lines and create a personal relationship with individual members and certain committees, not just leaders (Black)

  6. To effect trade policy, the President will need to:

    • Work closely with Congress (Brock, Dooley)

    • Consult with rather than talk down to our international allies and partners (Brock, Schlesinger)

    • Engage business and technology leaders in early policy discussions (Hagel, Dooley)

    • Negotiate trade agreements before attending WTO/IMF/WB summits (Brock)

  7. Trade is just one aspect of globalization, which our allies sometimes mistakenly regard as the "Americanization" of the world (Gergen). America is leading the trend toward globalization because of our strong (information) technology base. The next President and key staff need to realize that globalization is creating:

    • Greater domestic volatility (job losses and gains)

    • Porous national borders (across which flow venture capital, information and democracy)

    • A more difficult policymaking environment that puts a premium on agile, strategic thinking (Abshire, Brock, Dooley)

    • The need for technical education and "lifelong learning" so that people will have "the tools to compete and win" (Dooley)

    • A demand for citizens prepared to compete in "a world economy, an Internet-based economy" (Brock)

  8. Presidential leadership is needed during the first 100 days or so to:

    • Forge effective national security policy. Congress has grown increasingly restless and foreign policy is now guided largely by domestic politics and the media (Schlesinger)

    • "Start with an assessment of the situation" (Schlesinger) and engage in "a national debate on security policy" (Hamre)

    • Look at the larger picture. "Even though we must react, we need to have a conceptual framework for what we are doing" (Schlesinger)

    • Include in whatever plan is developed "effective modes to deter unacceptable international behavior in a period when people are not deterred by the traditional structures of state power" (Hamre)

    • Work with Congress to increase investment in our military forces, which are "shrinking at the same time our commitments are expanding" (Schlesinger)

    • The next President must also:

      • Educate the American public about Social Security and Medicare options (Breaux, Penner, Primus)

      • Appoint a bipartisan commission on Social Security/Medicare (Breaux) and work with Congress to fashion compromise legislation to reduce benefits, raise taxes and, possibly, allow for some private investment (Primus)

  9. The new media will both help and hinder Administration efforts:

    • On the one hand, the 24-hour news cycle and the Internet:

      • Demand immediate official reaction to delicate policy issues (Clift)

      • Severely compress the timeframe-and make more transparent-the policymaking process (Griffin, Roberts)

      • Blur the lines between news and entertainment (Roberts)

      • Lower the standard of journalistic accuracy (Murray)

    • On the other hand, the new media has:

      • Broken the hold of dictators on their citizens (Roberts)

      • Encouraged more frequent policy discussions (TV's talking heads), some of which are quite detailed ("For every Geraldo, there's a Jim Lehrer"-Roberts)

      • Inspired candor in at least one Presidential candidate-John McCain and the "Straight Talk Express" (Murray), which has its limitations (Vanocur)

      • Reminded us that "governing is a public act" (Roberts)

  10. Lessons learned: "At the end of the day, politics is a very human endeavor" (Gergen) conducted by leaders whose "timber is not perfect" (Abshire). Provided the next President possesses character, vision and great political capacity (Gergen), he has the opportunity to take transformational action in a few areas, work with Congress and the media to lessen partisanship, and help advance the great revolutions of our time- increased human freedom, globalization, and continued scientific and technological innovation (Gergen).


Symposium Participants

David M. Abshire
President, Center for the Study of the Presidency

Michael Barone
US News and World Report

Charles Black
Advisor to Presidents Reagan and Bush

Senator John Breaux

William Brock
Former Senator, USTR, Secretary of Labor

Eleanor Clift

Congressman Calvin Dooley
Founder and Co-Chairman, New Democrat Coalition

David R. Gergen
U.S. News and World Report, Assistant to Presidents

Patrick J. Griffin
Former Director of Legislative Affairs to
President Clinton

Senator Chuck Hagel

John J. Hamre
Former Deputy Secretary of Defense and
CSIS President

David C. King
JFK School of Government, Harvard University

Alan Murray
Washington Bureau Chief,
The Wall Street Journal

Rudolph Penner
Former Member, CEA

Wendell E. Primus
Director, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Steve Roberts
TV and newspaper journalist

James R. Schlesinger
Former Secretary of Defense, Energy and
Director of Central Intelligence



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