How to be a great POTUS

Bulldog Washington reporter DAVID CORN unearths the White House's latest thoughts on getting POTUS (that's President of the United States for civilians) into the history books.


David Corn
June 17, 1997 12:34PM (UTC)

To: Erskine Bowles, White House Chief of Staff

From: Domestic Policy Council Re:The Great Things Project

in January, POTUS said: "Great presidents don't do great things. Great
presidents get a lot of other people to do great things." As you know,
we
have adopted that as our working motto. (We still stand by our
suggestion
that the phrase "Getting you to do great things" be added to the
presidential stationery.) The volunteerism conference in Philadelphia
was a
success -- despite the almost instant reappearance of graffiti on inner
city walls -- but we believe we must push forward. Consequently, we have
come up with several "great things" initiatives that we propose POTUS
act
on immediately.
Apart from the public approbation we feel sure POTUS will receive,
the
strategy minimizes any potential political downside: The initiatives
cost
the Treasury nothing. They require no legislation. They do not offend
any
political constituency. Nor do they threaten any special interests.

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Build Your Own School It is estimated that $500 billion is needed to
repair the nation's schools. POTUS should call on schoolchildren across
the
country to rebuild their own schools. After all, don't they still teach
shop? Principals could even provide class credit for time spent
repairing
schools. (Suggested supplementary reading: "Self Reliance," by Henry
Thoreau.)

Clothes Do Make the Man At the volunteer conference, we noticed
that many corporations that support volunteerism provide employees with
T-shirts that bear such slogans as "AT&T Cares." That gave us an idea.
When
corporations fire workers, they should provide them with a new suit of
clothes. This will help those who are dismissed go on job
interviews. Labor Department studies show that when someone wears new
clothes, he or she has an enhanced sense of confidence. So, by providing
downsized employees with a new suit, corporations can help them find a
new
job. Mandatory clothing retrofitting is unlikely to pass Congress.
Instead,
the president should use the bully pulpit to persuade corporate America
to
provide job-interview-friendly clothing to the downsized.

Pro Bono Life Saving While it may not have been apparent during
the debates over health-care reform, many doctors are civic-minded.
POTUS
should call on them to offer one free medical treatment a week to an
individual who could not afford it. A psychiatrist would provide a free
hour of counseling to a suicidal patient. A kidney transplant specialist
would perform one free operation -- on a child of course -- who has been
waiting for a new organ. In a related move, POTUS should press drug
companies to donate recently expired drugs to financially troubled
hospitals and moderate-income citizens. According to FDA records, when
most
drugs expire, their potency is still above 95 percent. Our thinking:
Isn't
it better to give someone a drug working at 95 percent than nothing at
all?

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We Can All Get Along POTUS wants to "heal the breech." Part of
the racial problem in this country (according to Vernon Jordan) is that
white people and black people rarely socialize together. They do not
know
one another. To address this, POTUS should propose a tax credit for
inter-racial socializing. If you go out for dinner, go to the movies or
go
bowling with someone of a different race, you can deduct 50 percent of
the
money spent on the activity. We see this as a social policy equivalent
of
High Occupancy Vehicle "diamond" lanes. OMB estimates the cost, assuming
we
exclude spectator sports like basketball, will be less than a $1.5
billion
over five years.

Sharing the Shelter Roughly 10 million Americans are on
welfare. Another 10 million Americans have more than one home. The math
is
undeniable. POTUS should call on multiple-home owners to open up their
vacation houses to the less well-off on a sort of time-share basis. This
can be promoted as a cultural exchange between income-variated
Americans.
(One proposed name: the "Movin' On Up" program.)

End Campaign Contribution Dependency As We Know It We think we
have found a way to address the widespread impression that big companies
have a "special relationship" with candidates based purely on dollars.
POTUS should call for a voluntary system in which funders can only
contribute if they also volunteer to do mundane campaign work. Give a
$1,000, and you have to stuff 1,000 envelopes. Or have
your employees make 5,000 calls for a $5,000 donation. (We are
still developing an appropriate formula of activity-per-dollar.)
Imagine,
for example, Dwayne Andreas going door-to-door with campaign leaflets!
That
would lessen the gap between the "little people" who canvas
neighborhoods
at all hours of the day and night and the elite group that achieves
influence only through money. (Suggested slogan: "Donating to democracy
is a
privilege. You have to work for it.")

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David Corn

David Corn is the Washington editor of the Nation, a columnist for the New York Press and author of a political suspense novel, "Deep Background" (St.Martin's Press).

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