Obama Should Make Use of Romney's Considerable Talents
President Barack Obama had a promised White House lunch a while back with his campaign opponent.
The private one-hour meeting was not covered by intrusive television cameras. Only one photo of them shaking hands was provided to press and nation.
At his first press conference since he was re-elected, Obama had mentioned that Romney's success in turning around the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics had impressed him. That comment hinted that there might be an opportunity for them to cooperate for the common good.
After the bruising 1960 election, John F. Kennedy graciously offered a federal appointment to the loser, Vice President Richard M. Nixon. They'd both served in Congress since 1946 and were personal friends although opposites in political outlook and style. Nixon declined JFK's offer.
One wonders if, rather than re-entering the world of private capital, Romney might welcome an important public challenge. Although for Romney, his wife and family, the prospects of again being in the public arena might seem too daunting, one senses in Romney a compelling need to serve the nation in some constructive way.
The big question is: Why would President Obama wish to reward his recent detractor with vital official responsibilities? To understand the answer to that riddle, one must consider how Obama's mind works. Would he be comfortable with the most nationally prominent Republican in the land, albeit a badly wounded one, being within his tent? Or more to the point, does he trust the man?
My sense is that President Obama is pragmatic enough not to harbor grudges of past slights if there's a grand national purpose to be achieved. What might that be? Perhaps long-needed comprehensive reorganization of the executive branch.
Politically, the timing could be auspicious; one cannot remember a more toxic time of nasty partisan wrangling, particularly goaded on by tea party extremists who still infect Congress. A purely nonpartisan endeavor might help quiet that rancorous crowd.
With persistent calls for massive cuts in government spending, a comprehensive plan of administrative reorganization designed by citizens with no ax to grind just might give comfort to those on both sides of the aisle looking for smart new solutions and someone to blame for the suggestions rendered.
There are ample precedents for this idea. President William Howard Taft set up the Commission on Economy and Efficiency, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, at the height of the Great Depression, established the Commission on Administrative Management to address the "Topsy-like growth of government."
A more inspired move was made by President Harry S. Truman, who invited former President Herbert Hoover to head the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch in 1947. Hoover was a brilliant choice, lending conservative testimonial value to the commission's conclusions while allaying suspicions of those who'd be quick to smell a New Deal or Fair Deal whitewash.
After leaving office, a defeated Hoover had been neglected by fellow Republicans, reviled by Democrats, and ignored by FDR. No-nonsense Harry Truman trusted the former president and admired his knowledge of government and management. He respected Hoover's unselfish record of serving the nation. Truman's simple charge: "promote economy, efficiency and improved service."
The 12-man commission appointed by Congress set up 24 task forces and hired 300 experts from public life, academia and business. It made 277 specific recommendations. Administrative action carried out 114 of them; new legislation was required to carry out 106 more. Commissioners unanimously concluded that the president should have "more power over administration, not less."
It found that 65 departments, administrations, agencies and boards were reporting directly to the president, and recommended that be changed. It urged the Cabinet be more helpful to the chief executive, and even suggested reorganization of Congress.
The press heralded the commission as "nonpartisan" after it had carried out the most extensive investigation in American history. It achieved administrative efficiency and genuine savings. A subsequent Junior Hoover Commission was praised for its good governance recommendations.
Does Romney have the wisdom and devotion to country that Hoover showed in 1947 and throughout his lifetime? I think he does. Does Obama have reason to trust Romney to act in a nonpartisan manner as head of such a commission? That's the big question.
Safeguards can be put in place. When Congress authorized the Hoover Commission, the Senate, House of Representatives and president each selected four members. Half had to be from private life. It was designed that way to ensure close executive-legislative cooperation once recommendations were made. It achieved those ends.
Mitt Romney can lick his wounds in Bermuda, the Caymans or in Washington, D.C. The nation could be the winner if he and the president decide on the latter.
Paul R. Dunn lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at paulandbj @nc.rr.com.
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