Posted by: Dr Churchill | May 6, 2018

What about the President? (Chapter Five)

In our Republic, any discussion about how hard it is to manage being the President of these United States, and about maintaining the institution of the presidency in it’s entirety, has to start with managing the weaknesses of Congress, because today You have the US President working overtime in attempting to solve all those wicked problems the legislative branch has opted not to touch because they are too toxic….

The next successful president, says a top Reagan aide, will concentrate relentlessly on a few well-chosen goals.

“It’s like an air-traffic-control tower managing 100 airplanes who think they have an emergency and need to land, now,” says Leavitt, who also served as secretary of health and human services under George W. Bush. “To work well, the presidency has to have order and structure. To someone supremely confident in their ability to instinctively know the answer to every question, this could seem overly bureaucratic. However, when the process is not allowed to operate, the consequence is a lot of crashes.”

The crashes may not come immediately, but they are inevitable, and when they happen, a system for effective operation cannot be put in place retroactively. This is perhaps the greatest looming challenge for the Trump administration, which is stress-testing everything we know about the orderly operation of a White House. “Effective government is like an airbag,” says Harvard’s Mukunda. “You don’t notice it most of the time, but when things go wrong, you really want it to be there.”

Empowering your Cabinet seems to be the best way to lighten up the load from the President’s shoulders.

Even if his White House operation is zooming safely down the interstate, a president can’t make every decision from the Oval Office. There’s just too much to do. Instead, presidents should follow Calvin Coolidge’s model. “Perhaps one of the most important accomplishments of my administration has been minding my own business,” he said.

In the modern executive branch, that means giving Cabinet secretaries some leash. George Shultz advised Donald Trump to resist letting the White House dominate everything. “That has become a tendency, to put decision making and even operational things in the White House,” says the former secretary of state under Reagan and Treasury secretary under Nixon. “So I would hope the president might say something like this: ‘I consider my Cabinet and sub-Cabinet people to be my staff. Those are the people I’m going to work with to develop policy. And they are the ones who are going to execute it under my supervision. But they’re going to execute it.’ When you do that, you get good people, you get all people who have been confirmed by the Senate, and you get better policy and you get better execution.”

To allow this kind of delegation to take place, though, Americans will have to give up their conception of where the buck stops. If a Cabinet officer makes a bad decision, the president should fix it and the system should adapt. But a president should not be held responsible for every decision made in every corner of his administration, or he’s liable to do as Carter did and try to make every decision himself—an impossible task.

Delegation alone won’t be enough, though.

A future president might also redefine the role of the first spouse, tasking her with more of the visiting and hosting. In his 2017 book, The Impossible Presidency, the University of Texas historian Jeremi Suri goes so far as to suggest adding a European-style prime minister who could take work off the president’s desk.

Mitch Daniels argues that the overload of the job can be solved only by radically paring it back. This might require a break between the functional role of the job (defending the nation and building consensus for important legislation, the places where the presidential brain and only the presidential brain can be applied) and the ceremonial part of the job (visiting disaster sites, welcoming NCAA champions).

The latter category might be impossible to lose altogether, but could probably be outsourced to the vice president.

Daniels further argues that: “The next successful president is likely to be somebody who concentrates relentlessly on a few well-chosen goals. Someone who makes it plain that ‘there is only so much of me and there are only so many days. We have big problems. It’s not that I don’t care. I care deeply, but you’re not going to see me doing these things. You hired me to do a different job.’ ”

At least that is what Daniels thinks…

Of course, it’s hard to imagine an American president speaking that starkly to the American people.

Then again, this may be another way in which President Trump, has given the country an opportunity to address a problem it has long ignored.

Indeed some of Trump’s norm-flouting has gotten him in trouble. On other occasions, he’s done the previously unimaginable—and the world has kept spinning. Perhaps this might embolden the next president to give an uncommon inaugural address like the one following…

“My fellow Americans, for generations US Presidents have stood where I stand now and built a tower of disappointment. They have stacked promise upon promise. We will not judge their heart. This great country calls us all to be generous. But it is not generous to the institutions created by our Founders to stretch them beyond their limits. Therefore, I will devote my presidency to two essential goals: ensuring your safety and your prosperity. I will partake in no ceremony enjoyed by my predecessors if it does not align with these goals.”

Instead of this most Presidents would have wanted to say this: “America will have the pleasure of coming to know me, my vice president, Cabinet officials, and thus we will work with the Congress that it too will enjoy the opportunity to show its generous temperament by returning to American government as an active and equal participant…”

Of course this will not pass either… because the cynics in the media would roll their eyes. The opposing party would accuse the president of shirking his duties.

But the American people might appreciate the candor, the humility, and the pledge to focus on the work that matters.

On September 30, 1990, President George H. W. Bush stood in the White House Rose Garden before a veritable division of Brooks Brothers suits containing the leaders of Congress. The government was set to run out of money that day, a familiar story to contemporary ears. But what those men said would seem less familiar. The Republican president praised the Democratic leaders, and they praised him right back. Congressional leaders of both parties praised each other.

The president and assembled lawmakers were announcing the Budget Summit Agreement, a mix of spending reductions and tax increases meant to tame deficits. The agreement capped five months of intense wrangling, which had ended in a sprint of negotiations. For 11 days and nights at Andrews Air Force Base, meat-fed men (Monday was prime-rib night) had argued until they’d come to an accommodation. The outcome was one the Framers would have approved of: Lawmakers of strong opinions had compromised rather than resorting to open conflict. The results were imperfect, but preferable to inaction.

At least, that was one way to see it. The alternative view was that leaders of both parties had compromised their principles, and no one had done so more than Bush himself, having gone back on the “no new taxes” pledge he’d made during the 1988 campaign. This sentiment played out on the other half of CNN’s split-screen coverage that overcast day. Juxtaposed with Bush was footage of Representative Newt Gingrich leaving the White House.

The second-ranking House Republican refused to join the celebration, or to follow his party’s president. “It was a betrayal of his pledge and a betrayal of Reaganism,” Gingrich told the Bush biographer, Jon Meacham. Gingrich headed back to the Hill, where conservatives waited to greet him as a rebel hero.

Bush’s victory that day, sowed the seeds of his defeat in the 1992 election. “It did destroy me,” Bush told Meacham.

After this, it was taken as truth that no Republican politician could survive disappointing the conservative core.

The split screen that day encapsulated the dilemma for modern presidents: Work with the other side and be called a traitor, or refuse to work with them and get nothing done.

Days after the Rose Garden ceremony, the deal announced there collapsed. Liberal Democrats voted against their leaders because they wanted more government spending. Conservative Republicans voted against their leaders because they opposed tax increases and wanted more spending cuts.

Republicans running for reelection in 1990 needed the base to win. If they’d rallied behind the budget deal, they’d have risked being voted out of office. “What is good for the president may well be good for the country, but it is not necessarily good for congressional Republicans,” Representative Vin Weber of Minnesota, a Gingrich ally, told The Washington Post. “We need wedge issues to beat incumbent Democrats.”

In the 27 years since the announcement of the doomed Budget Summit Agreement, the parties have become only more partisan. Particularly in the Republican Party, primary challenges await lawmakers who dare enter into a bipartisan compromise.

This “purity ministry” is doctored by talk-radio hosts, preachers, Evangelicals, PACs, outside organizations, and countless social-media warriors.

The growth in partisanship means that when it comes to the basic business of government, the president and Congress are in constant turmoil. Shutdowns and federal-budget stalemates are now regular occurrences. Congress has not passed a spending bill on time in 20 years. Congressional oversight, once used to identify future risks and monitor the executive branch, is now robust mainly when it comes to tying the opposition’s shoelaces together.

When presidents do work with Congress, the achievements are partisan.

Obama signed health-care reform flanked only by Democrats.

Current President Trump celebrated his tax-cut bill with only Republicans.

Bipartisan ceremonies at the White House have become rarer, low-stakes affairs, or the last of a kind. One of the final times Republicans showed up at the Obama White House was to promote free trade, an issue Trump used to defeat his GOP rivals.

Republicans are no longer such boosters of the idea…

Indeed “The political system acts against success for a president,” as Mitch Daniels, who also served as the director of the Office of Management and Budget under George W. Bush, says.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis says this: “The new tribalism is right up there with the national debt as the biggest threat to our nation. The greatest threat America faces, is the lack of political unity.”

When the relationship between Congress and the White House breaks down, pundits like to invoke Lyndon Johnson. Through sheer force of will, they suggest, a president can get the machine going again, spurring Congress into action.

But Johnson is not the model, because at best he was a racist man, a clansman, a corruptor and a Regicider.

I still hate the LBJ quote: “I’ll have those niggers voting democratic for 200 years.”

LBJ was a shitty president and the Democrats and the left are still trying to hide this fact.

And of course, he had a unique résumé as a former Senate majority and minority leader and could take advantage of a martyred president’s legacy to build support for his policies. His party also had a large majority in both houses.

The idea that presidents can break through gridlock if they just try hard enough nevertheless persists. “The president has got to start inviting people over for dinner,”

Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, advised during Obama’s tenure. “He’s got to play golf with them. He has to pick up the phone and call and say, ‘I know we disagree on this, but I just want to say—I heard it was your wife’s birthday’ or ‘Your kid just got into college.’ He has to go build friendships.”

Presidential candidates buy into the Johnson myth because it allows them to pitch themselves as the unique solution to Washington’s problems. “One of the things I’m good at is getting people in a room with a bunch of different ideas, who sometimes violently disagree with each other, and finding common ground and a sense of common direction,” Obama told Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes in 2008.

By the end of Obama’s first term, the president and his aides had given up on the idea of deal making entirely. Pundits regularly advised him to just sit down and have a drink with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the way Truman shared bourbons with congressional leaders. “You have a drink with Mitch McConnell,” Obama joked in response. Two years into Obama’s tenure, McConnell had said the GOP’s most important job was making sure the president served a single term. Privately, little irked Obama more than the claim that he should be doing more to work with an opposition that didn’t want to work with him.

The call for presidents to sit down with the leaders of the opposing party is a vestige of a time when presidents and lawmakers were less connected to their party and when the parties were more ideologically and geographically heterogenous than they are today. They could appeal to ad hoc coalitions in Congress, which formed around beliefs on specific issues. As Senate minority leader, Johnson, a Democrat, helped Eisenhower defeat conservative Republicans who were pushing the Bricker Amendment, which would have limited presidential power in foreign affairs. As president, Johnson relied on the Republican Everett Dirksen to get civil-rights legislation passed over the opposition of conservative Democrats. As late as 1978, Republican Senate Minority Leader Howard Baker was willing to risk his own presidential aspirations to help Democratic President Jimmy Carter get the 67 votes needed to give Panama control of the Panama Canal.

The electoral map once encouraged compromise and cross-party coalitions. During Nixon’s and Reagan’s terms, more than half of the senators in the states they carried were Democrats. Those senators had constituents who liked the president, even though he belonged to the other party, which gave those senators room to make deals with him. About 80 percent of the senators from the states Obama won were of his party. The same is true of Trump.

These lawmakers have to answer to voters who are as far apart on the political spectrum as they’ve been in generations. The Pew Research Center has been studying partisan positions since 1994, testing views on fundamental political issues—whether regulations do more harm than good, whether black Americans face systemic racism, whether immigrants are a burden, and whether corporations make reasonable profits. In 1994, the members of the two major parties were only 15 percentage points apart, on average. Now they are an average of 36 points apart. That partisan gap is much larger than the differences between the opinions of men and women, of black and white Americans, and of other divisions in society. A president can’t build a coalition to support health-care legislation when the two parties fundamentally disagree whether the government should be involved in health care at all.

The partisan gap in how people view presidents is also as wide as it has ever been. On average, during his two terms Eisenhower enjoyed the approval of 49 percent of Democrats. Obama had the support of 14 percent of Republicans over the course of his presidency. Just 8 percent of Democrats approved of Trump last summer. In this environment, no matter how many drinks a president has with the leaders of the opposition, he’s not going to change their minds. “I don’t understand how you manage people in Congress in either party into seeing that some level of accommodation is in their interest,” says Bolten, the former George W. Bush chief of staff. “Presidents can’t negotiate like Lyndon Johnson, because members have no reason to fear the president.” But voters don’t want excuses. They want action. When Congress can’t act, it puts more items on the president’s to-do list, though he frequently lacks the tools and authority to act himself.

But we have to report also on how to fix the Presidency, because in order to repair the modern presidency, politicians, the public, and the press need to change their expectations about the office and focus on what is realistic. The president is not a superhero. He is human, fallible, capable of only so much.

So what do we want him to?

Or how about learning can we help him do it?

How can the President hit the ground running?

“The Romney Readiness Project” is the most valuable contribution to the modern presidency from a man who didn’t win the office…

It is a 140-page distillation of the work of Mitt Romney’s transition team, a six-month process of preparing for the job in 2012. The volume is filled with organizational charts, prioritization matrices, and tables that match jobs with responsibilities. Six hundred people were involved in planning for a Romney transition by the end of his campaign, participating in exercises in which they practiced moving ideas and legislation through the federal system. When people talk about the benefits of having a businessman in the White House, this example of careful attention is no doubt what they expect.

The businessman who succeeded where the former Massachusetts governor failed did not exactly bring the same rigor to the transition process. Donald Trump’s team followed a playbook that seemed at times to have been drawn on a napkin. The transition experienced all the typical flaws—infighting, skepticism toward those with expertise from the previous administration, wasted work—and a few new ones for good measure. Veterans of previous White Houses stressed to Trump’s team the value of building systems to manage information and aid decision making. They report that they were either humored or ignored by frantic staffers trying to keep up with the boss’s demands.

Max Stier of the Partnership for Public Service has devoted his career to trying to make the federal government operate more efficiently. He pushed Congress to pass the Pre-Election Presidential Transition Act, which put some structure in place to help a new president prepare. And he suggests that Congress should seek to formalize a transition process like the one Romney intended to follow.

Under Stier’s new plan, each party’s nominee would take steps to form a government-in-waiting and learn the folkways of the federal system. “It’s not fair to the American public,” he says, “for a candidate to say, ‘You know what, I’m going to go through that Now what? moment when I get into office, and you’re all just going to suffer along with me on that.’ ”

Voters and the media could do their part by dispensing with the idea that any candidate who thinks about the nuts and bolts of the presidency before the first Tuesday in November is prematurely measuring the Oval Office drapes. We should do the opposite: evaluate candidates based on their commitment to the transition, using it as a sign of seriousness. How they think about the transition offers a view into how they would approach the job: Can they focus on an important long-term task while engaged in the day-to-day urgency of the campaign? Can they put the right people in place?

“We used to put time on his schedule just so that he could think,” Leon Panetta said of Bill Clinton’s time in the oval office. And as we now know — Bill Clinton out that time to good use, by getting “well acquainted” with the female members of his staff, and with the young girl-interns like Ms Monica Lewinski, where he learned how to smoke some well lubricated Cuban cigars as well… as having his won cigar “smoked” to perfection.

Since the 2016 election, public attention has understandably focused on fake news, Russian interference, and how to keep the US elections from being destabilized again by millions of illegals and dead people voting again for Hillary Clinton across America’s Democratic controlled states. But susceptibility to foreign nationals voting illegally and to fake news manipulation by our own Corporate Oligarchy that owns all the News and all the Social Media — is hardly the only flaw in our electoral system.

The American public and press also need to reconcile the gap between the office of the Presidency as it is debated during campaigns, and the actual demands of the office as we have come to know them from the work and the words of the occupants of this most demanding of all Executive Offices in the world.

Indeed the President’s chair behind the Resolute desk has been described as “The Electric Chair” administering many hundreds of thousand of volts of electrical energy to those “lucky” enough to be able to sit there…

It seems that we need to do a better job of using the time of the Presidential campaigns to ask the candidates and to test them for the qualities that will best serve an incoming President during his time in office.

We hope that the President has managerial abilities and knows to choose management talent to who to delegate responsibilities. We need him to be able to govern effectively. We want our Presidents to be of a sunny disposition and of an evenhanded temperament, because in a job with such psychological strain, we should pay close attention to the candidates’ disposition and mettle.

“One thing about the presidency is that it doesn’t build character; it reveals it,” says Dan Bartlett, the George W. Bush communications director.

Let’s not kid ourselves, though. This kind of shift in public attitude would be miraculous given today’s tribalism, the dominance of hot-take journalism, and the churn of social media. Reporters and pundits gravitate toward easy narratives, and candidates, parties, special-interest groups, and financial kingmakers all benefit from crude, predictable fights over values and identity. When so much advantage can be gained by stoking emotions, why stop and consider a candidate’s reason?

Joseph Califano, Lyndon Johnson’s former domestic-policy aide, suggests that one possible way to interrupt the present system is for centrists to storm the primaries. A small percentage of party members currently take part in the presidential nominating process. Most of those who do are ideologically extreme, more interested in litmus tests than testing for experience and character.

If people with fewer fixed opinions joined in, they might select candidates who demonstrate the preparedness and the open-mindedness of the Presidential candidates to govern.

While we’re in the realm of the unlikely, we should also stop thinking of experience in Washington as a liability. This is not a new tension in American politics.

President Hoover said this about it: “When we are sick, we want an uncommon doctor; when we have a construction job to do, we want an uncommon engineer; and when we are at war, we want an uncommon general. It is only when we get into politics that we are satisfied with the common man.”

Today’s presidential candidates who have no familiarity with Washington enjoy a distinct advantage over those who have been swamp-rats for a long while, and thus the new persons are seen rightly as the enemies of the denizens of the swamp, and as champions of the people…

This people’s President bias, ensures that a New President like Donald Trump, has none of the toxic relationships honed by years of service with people that might give him a fighting chance of breaking through the partisan gridlock, but who also are gong to trip him up since they are always operating for their own “rat-swamp” agenda… of the so called deep state, of the military industrial complex, of the secret agencies, and of the US version of the Globalist Oligarchy that seeks to flatten our world in order to create the New Flat Earth Society.

It is yet an optimistic signal from the American voters — particularly the Independents, the Libertarians, and the Republican ones, who adore the DIY President, and have a tendency to romanticize the can-do spirit of the corporate CEO as the Executive in Chief, that they seek to find a man like themselves…

Yet, in the job description, we don’t have anything like the resemblance to the voters, or to the CEO selection process — when we hire our commander in chief. Americans who pledge a fondness for the effectiveness of the business world could apply some business-world wisdom to their own decision making by picking leaders the way companies do: by favoring, not punishing, candidates with pertinent experience.

Except for that important issue of corruption that taints all the major players of the swamp — a manual for newly elected presidents might need to include the following tips: Previous success does not predict future success. In fact, previous achievements may impede progress as president, same as preconceived notions about affairs of state are usually wrong…

“The natural instinct of a newly elected president is to approach the job like they operated in their previous roles,” says Mike Leavitt, the former Utah governor and chairman of Romney’s transition team.

“But the Presidency is unlike any previous job. The sooner Presidents realize that they are going to have to master new skills to run an effective White House, the better. Every President has to learn this, because they know how to get elected, but they have to learn how to govern.”

Actions speak louder than words—or at least they’re more important. Because rhetoric has been the coin of the realm during the campaign, new presidents fall into the trap of thinking they can talk their way around any problem.

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 1.23.07 PM

“The modern presidency is not impossible,” the political scientist Elaine Kamarck writes in her book “Why Presidents Fail.”

“But it does require a reorientation of the presidency itself—toward the complex and boring business of government and away from the preoccupation with communicating.”

If you want to move fast, you first need to move slow. This is especially hard medicine to take, because presidents are so flushed with new power. On Christmas morning, no one wants to wait for Mom and Dad to get up, in order to open the wrapped presents waiting under the tree…

Most new presidents campaigned on the idea that they would not fall prey to the incumbent’s sluggishness and lack of will. “Things will be different when I get to town” is what they told the adoring crowds on the campaign stump…

But there are no easy calls for anyone to make as the President of the Free World.

The system for presidential decision making has to be methodical, because presidential decisions are uniquely difficult. “Nothing comes to my desk that is perfectly solvable. Otherwise, someone else would have solved it. So you wind up dealing with probabilities. Any given decision you make you’ll wind up with a 30 to 40 percent chance that it isn’t going to work. You have to own that and feel comfortable with the way you made the decision. You can’t be paralyzed by the fact that it might not work out.”

In many instances, a president makes a decision without the certainty that comes from having done all the work leading up to it. “What presidents do every day is make decisions that are mostly thrust upon them, the deadlines all too often outside of their control on options mostly framed by others,” Richard Neustadt, whose memos on the presidency have guided generations in the office, wrote. To make these decisions a president needs to have space for reflection. “We used to put time on his schedule just so that he could think,” Leon Panetta said, when referring to Bill Clinton.

Embrace the bubble. Obama eventually came to realize that he had to consider the “Barack Obama” discussed in the press to be an entirely different person from himself to keep from becoming personally invested in criticism. Presidents have to ignore the reviews and the constant chatter; there is too much of it, and too much of it is uninformed. If he can’t ignore the chatter, he needs to find a safe way to vent: When criticism got to him, Harry Truman would write “long hand spasms,” splenetic outbursts that his staff were empowered to dispose of properly.

To guard against being out of touch, meanwhile, a president has to designate someone to tell him the truth and then believe that person when he delivers unwelcome news. Candor will be elusive in the Oval Office, where everyone’s instinct is to flatter the boss. The subordinate needs to be willing to tell the truth to power, but the boss needs to be big enough to recognize that person is actually trying to help them.

Trust your staff. Given the weight of every decision, and the fact that even good presidents can make bad ones, the system that delivers a set of options to the Resolute Desk has to be as solid as possible. Alternatives have to be presented by staffers who have expertise, understand the president’s mind, and can trust that their work will be put before the president fairly.

Obama said this: “The first thing I think the American people should be looking for is somebody that can build a team and create a culture that knows how to organize and move the ball down the field. No matter how good you are as president, you are overseeing … the largest organization on Earth. And you can’t do it all by yourself.”

Yet Obama was sidelined always by the Left wing of the Democratic party and they actually managed the Presidency.

And by Left – we mean socialists and communists within his administration ruled the roost and as it happens, they were all students of Saul Alinsky.

And that’s why the debasement of America as we now know it was an inside job.

Yours,

Dr Churchill

PS:

Mind you the terms ‘right’ and ‘left’ did not come from the French Revolution — but it came from the bible.

Ecclesiastes 10:2 says this: “The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left.”

Yes, language is important, and the leftist socialist lost in the weeds unbelievers are keen on eradicating what evidence condemns them from the public cannon.

So it comes as no surprise that Obama’s prescription is similar to the road map drawn by H. R. Haldeman, Nixon’s chief of staff for much of his administration, who created the template for the modern White House organization. Using his experience as an advertising executive, he drew up a careful system to staff the presidency.

“Nothing goes to the president that is not completely staffed out first for accuracy and form, for lateral coordination, checked for related material, reviewed by competent staff concerned with that area, and all that is essential for Presidential attention,” he wrote.

What Haldeman in his limited view could see, is that a presidential office is so complex that it can’t have improvisational staffers or an improvisational cabinet around the President…

That’s quite an ironic bit of wisdom, given Haldeman’s fate, and that of the Nixon administration he served, but it is a lesson, no less valid for that ignominy…

A president can of course overrule his staff, or change his mind, and that is a good thing.

Yet Haldeman still insists that there needs to be a strict business process, and a baseline of consistency.

According to Haldeman, unpredictability can be occasionally helpful.

But things have changed.

Today unpredictability is the bees’ knees.

Obviously for military strategists it’s the best thing we’ve got going for us.

Because not only it can be massively helpful, but it can also be an operating management style, since it gives the President an operating system that confuses our enemies and keeps our errant friends in check.

And that’s a great thing if you can achieve it.

Bth in times of war and peace.

 

 


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