• U.S.

How Can the President Get Back on Track?

4 minute read
James Carney and Daren Fonda

•ROBERT A. CARO Lyndon Johnson biographer This President can get his Administration back on track only with a very deep type of political and governmental courage: the courage to admit that his most fundamental policies have failed and must be radically changed. With a scandal like Iran-contra, you can fire a man. That won’t be enough here. The wounds are too deep. When a large part of the problem is a war, you really have to change the most fundamental policies. Iraq is wrecking George Bush’s presidency. People said about Vietnam, You can’t just cut and run, that there will be these horrible consequences. But Nixon finally did just leave.

•MONICA CROWLEY Author, Nixon in Winter For too long this President has allowed his opponents to set his agenda. To regain control over the dialogue, he has to rally the base. No President can survive without core support. For Nixon, the final nail in the coffin was when Barry Goldwater said, There’s nothing we can do for you. Bush can win back his base with his next Supreme Court choice. He should also get back to his original domestic agenda and his strengths on the foreign-policy side. He should talk about progress being made in Iraq. He has a great opportunity to deal more aggressively with Iran and Syria–not alone, but by marshaling international support. The dynamics have shifted sufficiently that he can deal more cooperatively with the Europeans in getting them on board.

•ROBERT DALLEK History professor, Boston University Bush is in a situation where you have the whiff of Vietnam and the smell of Watergate, and there are few examples of Presidents who got into trouble this deep and worked out of it. Reagan ran into a firestorm over Iran-contra, and he was rescued by his relationship with Gorbachev and dealing with the Soviet Union. For Bush, the Iraq war is a burden he won’t be able to shake until he can end the conflict. All the rhetoric about democracy, the Iraqi constitution–I think the public is skeptical since they don’t see a reduction in the insurgency. People have the feeling we’re caught in a morass. What can he do? Get out of the Iraq war. It wouldn’t hurt to talk to the public in a more candid way, but there has to be substance behind it. Telling the country we’ll fight this to the end is boosterism and probably won’t help his standing.

•DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN Author, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln He should force his handlers to let him break out from those scripted meetings with the public and really start talking to people. He has to get out of the White House. He has to sit down and figure out what he can accomplish. There’s still leverage in the presidency. He had a reputation in Texas as someone who reached across the political lines, and that hasn’t been in evidence through much of his presidency. The most important thing for him is to acknowledge that something’s going wrong. If he thinks it’s just bad luck or pesky journalists, then nothing will change. He should go to Camp David and surround himself with people who can challenge his thinking and come up with what he would like to accomplish. Make it like a battle plan. He’ll want to look back and say, Here’s what I accomplished, and I’m proud of this. It’s not too late, but he’s not going to get anything through Congress by becoming more conservative.

•KENNETH DUBERSTEIN Former chief of staff for Ronald Reagan Every second-term presidency deserves a mulligan, a do-over. But you can’t have a country and a President that drift for two or three years. You need a game plan. First you have to give a mea culpa to the country. Then you have to do some house cleaning, bring in people with the highest integrity and credibility, who are first-class managers. You have to think of big, bold things to do, become king of the hill again and find major legislative victories, veto things. You have to be a world leader. Anytime there’s good economic news, the President has to announce it. And finally, you have to help elect a Republican successor so the press won’t write that your eight years have been repudiated because someone from the other party was elected to succeed you.

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