First of all, I want to wish all of you in the “Winning the Future” community a Happy New Year. I hope that you and your family have a healthy, safe and prosperous 2007.
Second, I want to send you my most heartfelt thanks. In my last message to you, just before Christmas, I asked you to send me your New Year’s resolutions for Washington. As part of my hope for 2007, that it be a year of solutions and dialogue — a year in which we work across political lines to find solutions to the challenges facing America — I asked that you tell me what you want to see accomplished in Washington this year.
But before we get to your 2007 agenda for Washington, the nation bid its farewell this week to President Gerald Ford, and I want to share with you what we can learn from his service to our country.
Lessons From President Gerald Ford
I attended yesterday’s funeral for President Gerald Ford at the National Cathedral. It was a time for remembrance and reflection. It was also a gathering of many old friends.
Watching the honorary pallbearers walk in — Vice President Dick Cheney, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan, former Secretaries of State Jim Baker and Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld, and others — it was impossible not to reflect on the way exceptional leaders can have a lasting influence on our process of self-government. Rumsfeld was the youngest secretary of Defense under President Ford and the oldest under President George W. Bush. Cheney was the youngest chief of staff in history under Ford and then went on to a decade of service in the U.S. House, rising to the No. 2 Republican position and then on to secretary of Defense and Vice President. There were a number of people near me who had been drawn into politics during the Ford years. Now, they are middle aged and deeply involved in government.
The Right Man in the Right Place
President Ford may be the best modern example of the American system’s genius for putting the right man at the right place at the right time. After Vietnam, the Counter Culture, the Civil Rights struggles and Watergate, America was exhausted and torn. Our nation was deeply in need of someone calm, stable and willing to carry the burden and responsibility of power without self-serving maneuvering and manipulation, someone who would put the nation ahead of himself. It found such a man in Jerry Ford.
Ford personified the stable world of Grand Rapids, Mich., of the 1930s. He was rooted in Midwestern values. He believed in hard work and quiet assumption of responsibility.
Like much of the World War Two generation, he believed in simply doing what was required.
‘I Always Wanted to Be Speaker’
Ford had never intended or desired to be President. In fact, every year when Callista and I were with him at the American Enterprise Institute World Forum in Beaver Creek, Colo., a forum he chaired into his 90s, he would always turn to people and say, “You know, Newt got the job I wanted, I always wanted to be speaker of the House.”
Because Ford had never planned to be President, he did not enter the office with a focus on a personal agenda or with a grandiose sense of place.
Like Harry Truman following the death of FDR, Ford was determined to fulfill his unintentional role by making the best decisions he could every day.
Putting His Country First
In deciding to pardon Nixon, President Ford knew he was making it much harder to win the next election. He also knew that two or three years of trying Nixon and the appeals that would have followed would have kept the country mired by the Watergate scandal, focused on the past and paralyzed by partisan bitterness.
In the best tradition of a servant of the people, Ford took the burden on himself and did what he thought was best for America rather than what was best for his own political future.
It was a noble and sacrificial decision which personified the best of the American tradition of self-government.
President Ford was a decent and good man, and his many friends will miss him but remember him with deep fondness.
Now looking ahead to your Washington resolutions for 2007. I had hoped for a trickle of responses. What I got was a deluge.
Your New Year’s Resolutions for 2007
“Winning the Future” readers from across the nation sent in their New Year’s resolutions for Washington. And judging by the quantity and the quality of the responses I received, you and I are on the same page in our hope for a better America. We want to see an America that is safe, a Congress that spends responsibly and within our means, an education system that works, and leaders whose first priority isn’t politics but the American people.
As promised, today I’m sharing with you just a sampling of the many New Year’s resolutions I received. I want to be clear that while I don’t necessarily agree with all of these responses — they are your views, not mine — they are the kind of thoughtful, American solutions that you would expect from a movement whose goal is to win the future for America. So here we go.
1. Control Our Borders
Lots of readers want Washington to control our borders in 2007. Patrick in Yorba Linda, Calif., wrote, “I would like to see our leaders’ resolution be one of protecting our borders, enforcing immigration laws, and doing it in a manner with an honest and open dialogue with the public. Perhaps that plan will involve an electronic visa system outsourced to American Express or MasterCard.”
Cindy, another reader, was more succinct: “Build and enforce a fence between the U.S. and Mexico (can be physical or surveillance).”
2. Become Energy Self-Sufficient
Randy in Washington State wrote that energy independence would be “one of the best solutions to fighting terrorism, increasing U.S. employment, decreasing the national debt, and decreasing the foreign balance of power.”
Paul in Boothbay, Maine, was equally ambitious: “We should adopt an energy policy/project to make America independent of foreign oil once and for all. This should be on a ‘Manhattan Project’ size and priority.”
3. Simplify the Tax Code and Return to Fiscal Conservatism
Lots of you wrote in with your hope that Congress will adopt a flat tax or the Fair Tax in 2007. Paul in Charleston, S.C., put it best: “My 2007 wish is to eliminate our incredibly complicated tax code and replace it with a simple flat tax. I was looking over the new 2006, 1040 instruction booklet and thought to myself, how could we have ever gotten to this point? Just the worksheets alone are enough to make you give up. I don’t care what the rate is, just make it apply to everyone. Every citizen has equal access to government services and is equally responsible for sharing in that cost.”
Craig suggested a new “Contract with America” to return the nation to fiscal conservatism. He wrote, “We must do as much as possible to eliminate discretionary spending at the federal level — as discretionary spending is really about local/regional politics almost without exception, it is best left to state and local governments, not any kind of national entity that in effect becomes a wealth redistribution tool that favors those with the most influence and power.”
And Charles in Brighton, Mich., has this hope for the President in 2007: “I will remember where I left my veto pen when spending is out of line with common sense.”
4. Find a Strategy for Victory in Iraq
Many of you wrote in that you are unhappy with lack of progress in the war in Iraq but want to see America prevail there. Gary, a retired military officer, put it this way: “How about a very simple resolution? Let’s win in Iraq and Afghanistan instead of trying to find a way to lose.”
And Dave, another reader, offered a four-point plan for victory: “Establish a clear cut direction in Iraq to include an exit strategy — if only known to top officials. Go on the offensive against Iran’s nuclear sites. Double efforts to capture bin Laden before elections. Release weekly stories of valor and patriotism to enhance public opinion of the war and to enhance recruitment efforts.”
5. Change How Congress Does Business
Many, many readers wrote in with suggestions for how Congress can better represent their views in Washington.
Gilbert in Clearwater, Fla., wrote, “My New Year’s resolutions: The Congress should outlaw earmarks, senatorial holds and all the other shenanigans.”
Chuck, a veteran, wrote, that congressmen should, “represent [their] constituents first and foremost instead of [themselves]. Establish a ‘Contract with America’ every year so we know what the agenda is and can evaluate their performance individually and collectively. If they won’t set goals, a plan to achieve those goals and a timeline, they will continue to fail the country.”
Kathleen in Las Vegas offered Congress this advice: “Repeal of McCain/Feingold’s horrendous attack on my 1st Amendment rights. Political speech and religious practices were supposed to be protected, not censored.”
And Fred in Clifton, Colo., expressed these hopes: “That issues be debated on their merits, not the merits or demerits of the debaters. That national best interest always trumps personal or party best interest.”
6. An Annual, Public Reading of the Constitution?
And finally, one of my personal favorites came from Bill, a retired Marine in Fredericksburg, Va. Bill wrote, “I’d like to see select members of the Executive Branch, all of the members of the joint houses of Congress, and the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States recite, or have read to them at a mass ceremony, the Constitution of the United States before they get ‘down to business’ in 2007. (I would also like to see that ceremony televised by C-SPAN.)”
What better way to ensure that this year and every year gets off to a good start in Washington then with a public reading of the Constitution? Throw in the Declaration of Independence as well, and we would have a simple, strong reminder to all our leaders of what is expected of them in Washington: To represent “We the People.” To “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” And to remember that we are “endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.”
Now that’s an agenda Washington could use. Here’s to a happy, safe and prosperous 2007.
P.S. – Of all the many tributes paid to President Ford these past few days, Vice President Dick Cheney’s stands out for its eloquence. In the United States Capitol Rotunda on Saturday, the Vice President said, in part, of Gerald Ford:
“He was not just a cheerful and pleasant man — although these virtues are rare enough at the commanding heights. He was not just a nice guy, the next-door neighbor whose luck landed him in the White House. It was this man, Gerald R. Ford, who led our republic safely through a crisis that could have turned to catastrophe. We will never know what further unravelings, what greater malevolence might have come in that time of furies turned loose and hearts turned cold. But we do know this: America was spared the worst. And this was the doing of an American President. For all the grief that never came, for all the wounds that were never inflicted, the people of the United States will forever stand in debt to the good man and faithful servant we mourn tonight.”
You can read all of Vice President Cheney’s tribute to Gerald Ford here.