When I asked readers to send their top priorities for the new President, I had no idea it would be mid-December before we knew the outcome! In any event, I received some thoughtful responses, and I appreciate the participation. Given the odds on the Florida results, most of you assumed a Bush Presidency. To summarize the responses, almost all placed Social Security and Medicare reform as a high priority, with strengthening our military, reducing the size of the Federal government, campaign finance reform, adopting successful education models, banning partial birth abortion, health research funding, and “bringing the country together” prominently mentioned. And I agree with my friend Red Griffin that a thorough cleansing of the Oval Office would be in order! Interestingly, not one response listed tax cuts as a priority, which was surprising given its emphasis in the Bush campaign.
For whatever it’s worth, here are my thoughts on setting the tone for the Bush Administration, which is already off to a great start with the cabinet appointments. First, bringing the country together will be a function of governing consistently with the tenor of the campaign. I don’t buy the “no mandate” rhetoric, which is a ruse designed to undermine and co-opt Bush on his central priorities. The terms “bipartisanship” and “reaching out” have already become shopworn. The election, however closely and bitterly contested, is over. Bush won. As John F. Kennedy said the day after his election in 1960, “the margin of victory was narrow, but the responsibility is clear”. Leadership is about taking people from where they are to where they have never been, as Kissinger said, and I would add that it is also about defining the governing priorities, not waiting for the people to tell you what they are. Second, Bush should forget “deal-making” with the Democratic Congressional leadership. His father is an expert on that, to his regret. The case for his policies and governing philosophy must be made, a la Reagan, directly with the American people. As James Carville has noted, the Democrats will respond to fear above all else, and this anxiety should be exploited. In saying this, I don’t underestimate the difficulty of finding consensus in a divided legislative branch, but the American people want and will respond to conviction and moral authority. It is here that Bush has a mandate.
As to specifics, an across the board marginal income tax rate cut should be at the top of the list. It is sound economic policy, the timing now is even better than early in the campaign, and, contrary to liberal orthodoxy, it has strong moral grounds. Next, Bush has touched the “third rail” of Social Security reform without political penalty and can now proceed to lead a transformation of this system toward privatization. After launching these two initiatives Bush should begin to build the case for school choice and the extinction of racial preferences in civil rights policy. It’s time we moved these two issues out of the judicial system and back into the legislative process. Did I mention partial birth abortion? He should send the message early that a bill banning this procedure would be welcomed and eagerly signed. These steps along with the reversal of a few dozen Clinton executive orders would represent an excellent start. Beyond that, I like what my new Congressman John Culberson said about his test for support of legislation—it must include the words repeal, restore, abolish, or cut.