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Memo to the President

Some helpful advice: no tax hikes, no Afghanistan deadline, no Ground Zero mosque.

Aug 9, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 44 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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A failed presidency is a terrible thing to witness. A failed presidency with more than two years left to run is also dangerous for the country. So, even though it would be easy for The Weekly Standard to allow your administration to continue on its current path to perdition, thereby ensuring massive GOP gains this November and a likely victory in 2012, we offer, in a spirit of bipartisanship and patriotism, some advice. Here are three simple steps that you can take that would help right your presidential ship, reduce the scale of what now looks like a huge blowout in November, and give you a chance to govern successfully over the next couple of years.

Memo to the President

All you have to do is .  .  .

 

1. Extend current tax rates.

This one is easy. You’re headed for a slugfest over extending current tax rates (aka the Bush tax cuts). You want to retain them for families earning less than $250,000, and Republicans want to do so for everyone. If there’s a big brawl and no deal is reached in September, Republicans will be able to say truthfully that a Democratic president and Congress have set the stage for an across-the-board tax hike on January 1, 2011. Good luck explaining to voters that you’ll fix this looming tax hike in a lame-duck session in December.

If, on the other hand, you prevail in insisting on tax hikes this September, and the economy stays slow, Republicans will scream and yell, using quotations from your own White House economist, Christina Romer, and your Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, to argue things would be better if you hadn’t raised taxes. Or if you lose the fight in Congress, with Republicans picking up enough Democrats to pass their tax bill, you’ll have to veto the legislation—in which case you’re back to having done nothing to stop the coming tax hike—or sign it amid Republican chortling and Democratic recriminations.

So your best option is to say this: You’ve consulted widely with economists and businessmen, and you think it’s safer for the economy to freeze all rates for two years. You’ve abandoned your ideological preference and have decided to err on the side of stability and predictability for businesses and on the side of reassuring markets and fostering economic growth and job creation. You could use last Friday’s discouraging second quarter GDP number as an excuse for announcing that you’re now willing to accept a two-year extension of current tax rates. This would pass with large majorities in both houses when Congress returns in September. There would be some ineffectual sniping from the left, but it would suddenly be harder for Republicans to label you some kind of rigid and threatening ideologue. And the economy would benefit.

 

2. Rescind the July 2011 Afghanistan deadline.

You’re now committed to the war in Afghanistan. You’re not going to overrule Petraeus, and you’re not really going to be able to draw down much in July 2011 anyway. But the sense that there is a “deadline” is doing harm in Afghanistan and the region. Get rid of it. If things go badly over the next year and you eventually decide we do have to get out, you can still make that decision. If things go decently, on the other hand, you’ll get credit for statesmanship in adjusting your original plan. The key is to overrule the deadline in the next month—perhaps on a surprise trip to Afghanistan, making the announcement while standing with Petraeus and the troops.

 

3. Come out against the Ground Zero mosque.

Americans by a margin of nearly 3 to 1 think the 15-story mosque and community center, planned by a shadowily financed Wahhabi imam to dominate Ground Zero, is offensive. You don’t have to (yet) move to do anything legally to stop it. Just say that in your opinion it’s a bad idea, that it’s unnecessarily divisive and likely to pit American against American, faith against faith, neighbor against neighbor. Urge the sponsors, financiers, and developers of the mosque to rethink their plans, and the various entities of the City of New York their approval. You might announce this on 9/11, but that could be a little late—you’d be behind the curve by then. So it would probably be better just to volunteer next week. The plans to build the mosque will collapse, and you’ll get the credit.

So: No tax hikes, no Afghanistan deadline, no Ground Zero mosque. It’s really pretty easy. They’re all the right thing to do (as you surely know with respect to Afghanistan and the mosque, and must suspect with regard to taxes). Doing these three things will stabilize your approval rating and could lead to an uptick before the election. November will be rough but not disastrous.

Then major cuts in domestic discretionary spending in the budget early next year, and military action against the Iranian nuclear program—and you’ll have a real shot at a successful presidency.

—William Kristol


 

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