Big Projects for the President
Jude Wanniski
May 12, 1997


Memo To: Joe Klein, The New Yorker
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Clinton's lack of ambition

My congratulations on your little piece in the May 12 issue, commenting on the President's strange silence, his absence of energy, the lack of any kind of agenda that might equate with his securing his place in history. I had not seen his quote in USA Today: "One of the things I learned with Hillary is that in the absence of a genuine immediate crisis you can make more progress if you have a discernible, step-by-step plan than you can by asking Congress to do more than the system will bear." Then your closing: "Sometimes, however, the system needs a kick in the pants. The Bill Clinton who came to Washington in 1992 seemed ready to administer that corrective. He wasted a lot of energy, and careened down some fairly dramatic blind alleys, but there was a freshness and vigor that made public life seem vital for a time. He showed a flash of that form in Philadelphia, raising AmeriCorps from the near dead, but it was only a moment, a small gesture, inducing a twinge of nostalgia in old friends who once harbored grand hopes for his Presidency but have now moved on."

But Joe, the President was only re-elected on the pledge to protect the American people from Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress. It isn't as if there are not many great things he could do that need to be done. The tax system has to be rebuilt. A monetary system has to be built that is worthy of the only superpower, imperial America. Indeed, an entire new world order has to be planned, with the cooperation of the rest of the world.

These are all gigantic projects, which Clinton should be tackling. He can only do so with those Republicans who know what has to be done, the ones with the ideas, the ones in control of the core of the government the legislative branch. It is no wonder the President's state of mind borders on depression when his own Cabinet is composed of partisan naysayers. The worst of them is Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin, who delights in advising the President that he stands ready to block any reforms the Republicans propose.

At Christmas time, when the President met for more than two hours with House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Archer, there seemed to be a genuine spark of optimism that the White House and Congress could work together on fundamental tax reform. Thanks to Rubin and his cohorts, nobody is talking about such grand canvas ideas. Why not take some time yourself, Joe, and explore this terrain. With a little effort, I think the President could throw aside his psychological crutches and become as good as new.