If you could have a dinner conversation with our next president, what would you want to discuss? I asked myself that question and, after some reflection, decided I would share the following thoughts with him.
Mr. President, all of us are naturally concerned about our economy, but we are optimistic at heart and know that eventually “This too shall pass.” But my deeper concern is that we will overreact to this financial crisis and stray from the economic framework that made us strong. That framework is based on the principles of the Free Market and the individual accountability that is inherently contained therein, as well as appropriate anti-trust laws and some regulating forces.
But please be mindful that government interference in the marketplace originally led to the problems we are facing. For example, the Savings and Loan Scandal was caused by the government’s FSLIC insuring bad loans, which meant that big mistakes and “oversights” would not result in big losses for the offenders. Why? Because the government could always be counted on to bail them out.
The same thing occurred with this present mortgage banking mess, which was made possible by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the government protections behind them. This situation shielded offenders from being forced to take responsibility for their own malfeasance. And this combined with multitudes of government “supervisors” who were lazy, sloppy and asleep at the switch to cause the problems.
So we don’t need more regulations. What we need is more diligence and accountability. So please guard against an overreaction to these recent problems and an over-correction that would take us to a more minute and all-encompassing bureaucracy, and a further suffocation of our entrepreneurial efforts.
Which, Mr. President, brings me to my next point. Please tell us that you will empower a nonpartisan agency like the General Accounting Office with sufficient investigative powers to supervise our government to detect small economic, ethical and human rights problems before they become large ones. Then mandate that organization to report its findings directly to you, and also to the news media. Being proactive instead of reactive in these areas will not only go a long way in ferreting out and blunting future problems, but also regenerate a faith and trust in government that has understandably been missing for decades.
Next, and all importantly, please tell Congress and the American people that you will veto all spending measures passed by Congress if they contain even one appropriation that you do not believe is appropriate, until such time as Congress delegates to you the power of the Line Item Veto. And then carry out that threat! This is one reform that President Reagan was unsuccessful in passing, but you can and must cause it to occur.
We now understand that, as a political reality, individual members of Congress are simply forced to show the voters back home that they are active in procuring federal funding for lots of pet projects in their districts. This was made abundantly clear when, even in the moment of dire economic crisis, members of Congress wouldn’t pass the so-called “bailout package” until they appropriated an extra $135 billion for their local projects. So let them continue to earn their “political points” back home by continuing this practice. You can be the “heavy” or the “bad guy” and veto this non-essential spending for the good of the country. Let Congress blame you - you can take it!
And then there is the difficult question of Iraq. Mr. President, I want to be clear. Before all of this happened, I took the public position that if we put ground troops in Iraq without the substantial assistance of the world community, it would be the biggest mistake of my lifetime. Nothing has happened since that time to change my mind. But we are now in Iraq, and we must address our present options and, for these purposes, put the past aside. So simply pulling out of Iraq at this point would for many reasons be another major mistake.
Instead, what we should do is two-fold. First, we should send as many private American contractors home as soon as we reasonably can. Then we should give their jobs to Iraqi contractors who should establish new contracts with and then be paid by the Iraqi government. Second, we should require the Iraqi government to pay a fairly small amount of money for each day that each American soldier remains on duty in that country.
That two-fold approach will accomplish three noteworthy benefits. First, it is a simple fact of life that people more appreciate and value the things that they pay for instead of the things that are given to them. Second, both economically and politically these small payments will encourage a reduction in our troops to the smallest levels that will still be sufficient to do the remaining tasks at hand. And third, of course, this will help in at least a small way with our balance of payments problems. Considering their resumed exportation of oil, the Iraqi government should be able to take on these financial obligations, and everyone, especially Iraq, will be better off if this occurs.
Thank you for your time, Mr. President. Regardless of the politics of this past election, all Americans wish you good health, wisdom and fortitude as you guide our fragile experiment in democracy forward for the next four years. And if you ever feel that there is anything I can do to help you in this effort, you can always count on me.
JAMES P. GRAY is a judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Wearing the Robe - the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts. He may be contacted at his website, judgejimgray.com.