My Letter to the Next President

After more than 50 years in the Congress of this great United States of America, and having served alongside 11 presidents, I felt that this 90-year-old youngster had some unique observations which might help the next President better understand the daunting job ahead of him when he assumes office on January 20, 2009. Working with my friend Steve Kettmann over a period of many months, we brought together a short narrative in the hopes of helping the next President hit the ground running on day one.

I wrote this book, Letter to a New President: Commonsense Lessons for Our Next Leader, because I believe that during the past eight years under the presidency of George W. Bush, we have moved down a very slippery slope that has resulted in the eroding of the principles embodied in our Constitution and embedded in our national values.
Much of my prescription for setting America right again involves returning to the wisdom of our Constitution, and remembering the distinctly American values learned at our mother's knee. I encourage all who have an abiding love for our country and its history, and who understand the urgent need for a course correction to read this book.

We are all excited about the opportunity to see this country move beyond the unfortunate legacies of the Bush years, but the U.S. political process does not always lend itself to a deep and probing consideration of the fundamental principles which have made us unique, and to which we must always return if we are going to find our way.

With that in mind, I hope that the following excerpts can encourage a lively debate here at the Huffington Post. If you agree with what I have to say, I'd love to hear from you, via comments at the end of these excerpts. If you disagree, or have other suggestions that build on my ideas, let's start a vigorous discussion. I may be 90 years old, but you're never too old to hear fresh perspectives and constructive criticism.

Some excerpts:

"The tradition of American democracy is special and unique not because we are loud in proclaiming it as such, but because that tradition though forged in a much different historical period, has proudly stood the test of time and successfully responded to the many crises in our republic's history. To rebuild U.S. diplomatic credibility in the world may require decades. The trick will be to have something to say to the rest of the world that does not sound either patronizing or bullying, like so many of the ugly pronouncements heard during the George W. Bush years."

"What determines the quality of American democracy is the use we make of our power. We have institutions in place to help this country avoid the misuse of our power. Those institutions are Congress, the courts, and public opinion. The more we cut off true debate and the exchange of ideas, and let those in power use emotion, misdirection, and the manipulation of truth to whip the nation into action, the more likely we are to make dangerous mistakes in how we use our power. A representative democracy only works when the people are involved. We need them."

"If nothing else good comes from these last eight years under President Bush, it can at least be hoped that every citizen will come to understand that we can never take our values and our principles for granted and that we must constantly reaffirm and rearticulate them, not only for ourselves, but also for the world. We must be ever vigilant against the homegrown forces that would turn a nation founded on the universal rights of man into one now intentionally identified with torture, willing to hold people behind bars with no charges filed, willing to justify almost any extreme action on the basis of a highly warped and irrational view of the world."

"The public grows weary of perpetually being spoon-fed images of a grinning President greeting grinning supporters or talking incessantly about how great everything or everyone is. Leading a great country demands a deeper level of discourse, and it also demands a President able to use the mass media to make that discourse understandable to large numbers of people. The power of the bully pulpit must also be balanced by a deep regard for the manner in which it is used."

"It takes time to build the things that most matter. We built out tradition of democracy through more than two centuries, only to have our Constitution weakened during the last eight years. Those who tear down the work of generations in a self-serving frenzy need only a handful of years to wreak their havoc. Those of us who would build back our legitimacy must think instead of decades and centuries, not mere cycles."

"An entire nation cannot be held hostage to fear week after week and month after month and year after year without paying a catastrophic price. The American people and, yes, all too many of their political leaders have been manipulated and controlled in recent years through the most shameless use of fear that this country has ever seen. Sadly, and shocking as it must be to stare down so sobering a reality, even the infamy of Joseph McCarthy's reign of demagoguery in the 1950s did not threaten the Constitution as directly as we have endured of late."

"Understand the art and value of diplomacy, new President. You will have to invest major energy in restoring America in the eyes of the world. We must banish the image of the disingenuous bully, with one standard for our own behavior and a different one for everyone else's. The President is our Ambassador Supreme and he must restore an image for our country that reflects the character of the American people - tolerant, kind, fair, and willing to use force as a last resort, never a first. Consult often with our allies. We live in a global economy, with a growing international interdependency, and just because the job will be hard and require great patience and diligence does not make it any less necessary."