A DIFFERENT KIND OF PRESIDENCY: A Proposal for Breaking the Political Deadlock by Theodore C. Sorensen

A DIFFERENT KIND OF PRESIDENCY: A Proposal for Breaking the Political Deadlock

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Sorensen, the JFK speechwriter credited with some of the New Frontier's loftier rhetoric, thinks the country is in a true crisis that calls for drastic political measures. The prospects of nuclear annihilation and insurmountable national debt lead his list, and he cites turf-defense and narrow self-interest as barriers to doing anything effective about them. (Congress upsets White House arms-control agreements, the president torpedoes Capitol Hill initiatives, etc.) Sorensen thinks this is needless because the two parties are so close in their basic ideologies. So, he proposes a coalition government as the way out--a path, he says, that requires no Constitutional tinkering (as would, for example, proposals for a single six-year presidential term). Sorensen wants the presidential candidates in the next election to agree in advance to serve only a single term (Reagan, of course, can only serve one more) and to refrain from playing the traditional role of party leader while in office. Then he wants the next president to choose as vice president a member of the other party--taking as precedent Lincoln's choice of Democrat Andrew Johnson as his running mate for reelection. This should be not a renegade (which would smack of political opportunism), but someone of stature and good party standing (an example, not Sorensen's, might be Robert Dole as Mondale's V.P.). Then Sorensen would have the Cabinet and the top appointed offices--from deputy and assistant secretaries to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs--be distributed rigorously between the two parties so that a Republican secretary would have a Democratic deputy, and vice versa. The picture is completed by removing from the White House staff any party function, and capping the structure with a Presidential Advisory Council of Elder Statesmen (proposals such as this one always seem to find an honored place for the guys that got us into the mess in the first place). This coalition government would send a joint Executive-Congressional delegation to arms limitation talks, establish an authoritative council to handle the economic muddle, etc.; after four years it would disappear, to be replaced by the regular free-for-all. Two problems, aside from reality, come to mind: first, this crisis, unlike a war, is not perceived in the stark terms of national survival (as Lincoln's post-Civil War government was); and second, coalition war cabinets have been known to suspend political rights in the name of national distress, a danger Sorensen doesn't take sufficiently into account. The most likely possibility would be a mutant form--with a token member of the other party here or there for dressing. A book for one election season.

Pub Date: Jan. 25th, 1984
Publisher: Harper & Row