No sooner do we elect a new president than we start telling him what to do. People in the media are full of advice, perhaps more so this year than usual. Because of the closeness of both the presidential and congressional elections, much media advice seems to be that President-elect Bush should adopt the policies of those he beat — first John McCain’s “campaign finance reform” and then the Democrats’ class-warfare objections to cutting taxes.
But what is the point of winning, if you are going to act as if you lost? While George W. Bush does not have the kind of overwhelming majorities that have enabled some presidents to hit the ground running, making sweeping changes in the proverbial “first hundred days,” the fact is that his party has control of both Houses of Congress. Ronald Reagan never had that and yet he carried through “the Reagan Revolution.”
Not all congressional Democrats are big-spending, class-warfare liberals. Some supported some of President Reagan’s policy proposals and no doubt such Democrats can be persuaded to vote for various conservative policies of the new Bush administration. That will of course require persuading the public first, as Reagan did. But that is part of the job description of a president.
Some important changes can be made without even asking for congressional approval, by using executive orders. At the very least, many of Bill Clinton’s liberal executive orders can be reversed, especially those that made it harder to use our own energy resources.
Major changes can be made in agencies directly controlled by the president. The Justice Department’s anti-trust prosecution of Microsoft on the basis of flimsy speculations and liberal dogma can be stopped. Its pressures on businesses and academic institutions to continue using group quotas, in defiance of statutes and Supreme Court decisions, is long overdue to be halted.
There are also important legislative proposals that need not jangle partisan nerves. One would be changing the federal government’s fiscal year to coincide with the calendar year. The present practice of having the fiscal year end about a month before an election virtually guarantees partisan wrangling, stalling and obstruction, especially since there is a congressional election every other year.
By letting the government’s fiscal year end on December 31st, the budget can be passed after election pressures are over and some semblance of sanity returns. This could avoid the tendency to throw billions of dollars of the taxpayers’ money at every voting bloc on the eve of an election.
A legislative proposal that should have widespread bipartisan support is a federal ban on telemarketers’ phoning people who don’t want to be interrupted at dinner or pestered by advertisers or by people soliciting their money or their votes. A few states already have laws against phoning people who have registered as not wanting to be phoned by strangers.
A federal ban could apply automatically to people who have unlisted numbers precisely because they do not wish to be bothered by phones ringing when they want to eat, sleep, recover quietly from illness or just enjoy the privacy and tranquility of their own homes. A surprisingly large number of people have unlisted phones and this would automatically get the telemarketers off their backs. Others could simply register their names as people who want to be left alone. It is hard to imagine a more popular law.
Perhaps the biggest and most lasting impact a new president can have is through his appointments of federal judges in general and Supreme Court justices in particular. These are people who can shape our whole legal system for the next generation.
It is not just a question of whether the courts are going to be turning criminals loose on flimsy grounds or ruling one way versus another on affirmative action or abortion. More fundamentally, the question is whether judges are going to uphold a framework of laws on which honest people can depend or whether judges are going to make rulings based on their own pet notions, turning law into a crapshoot that encourages frivolous lawsuits against all sorts of institutions.
There is no question that Democrats generally prefer judges who wing it for liberal causes. But it takes no more than a handful of Democratic senators with a sense of the importance of the rule law to enable judges to be appointed to uphold the law, instead of playing dangerous games on the bench.
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