Memo to the president-elect

By Jack Kemp

Copley News Service

Dear Mr. President-elect: Congratulations on your victory. Here's some friendly advice from a recovering politician on setting priorities for your new administration.

First take your wife and staff to "Remember the Titans," a film starring Denzel Washington as Coach Boone of T.C. Williams High School in northern Virginia, which was desegregated in 1971. My wife and I think it's one of the greatest films of the past 10 years because it dramatizes how racial reconciliation and social justice can be achieved through courageous moral leadership. It's a tremendous example of what must happen in America at the dawn of this new century.

Racial reconciliation is the greatest challenge for our democracy. It's impossible to promote liberal democracy abroad if it's not working here at home. What we preach to Eastern Europe and Southern Africa we must practice in East Harlem and south central Los Angeles. We can't promote ethnic harmony in the Balkans and the Middle East unless we nurture it in our own national family.

It's true we've never enjoyed greater prosperity for many or had a better chance for peace, but the best of times is also the worst of times for those who are uneducated, ill-trained for the technology economy and trapped on the wrong side of the digital divide. Never forget the lesson of the Good Shepherd and his care for all his flock.

You must address the public policy challenges that await you in this same spirit of reconciliation and concern for those most in need. None is more important than overcoming a decade of foreign policy mistakes in a way that keeps our nation secure, the world at peace, and the cause of freedom and democracy on the march.

First and foremost, America must re-evaluate its role in the post Cold War world. The policies that served us well as leader of the forces of freedom during the Cold War are not appropriate for an era of peace. It's true that peace comes from strength and we must rebuild our military capability and military morale. But Cold War behavior and rhetoric must yield to a prudent, practical foreign and defense policy based on the Golden Rule: America treating others as we expect to be treated. With this is mind, I urge you to name Colin Powell as your secretary of state.

As part of this re-evalution you should reconsider every embargo, sanction or restraint on trade placed on nations with whom we disagree. Trade should be based on the Golden Rule, as well.

We can do better than 4 percent growth. Our people have tremendous human and economic potential that goes untapped because of disincentives to investment, invention, entrepreneurship and even forming a new family.

I must also point out the economic inefficiency caused by an obsolete and harmful tax code. It needs to be reduced to a single sheet of paper that people can understand. Tax rates need to be slashed and incentives restored. Work, saving and investment need to be encouraged.

Even John Maynard Keynes said no one should have to pay tax rates over 25 percent in peacetime, but we pay tax up to four or five times on the same income earned, saved and invested, and even death is a taxable event. The tax code should raise revenue for legitimate purposes of government, not be driven by social engineers.

It doesn't make sense to take almost 13 percent of workers' pay and provide a government retirement benefit that will soon drop below a 2 percent return on investment. We should commit public funds to pay every penny of Social Security benefits owed to retirees in full and on time. Beyond what's required to provide a retirement safety net for future retirees, we must let working families invest payroll taxes in personal accounts to get far higher retirement benefits that they own.

You should ask Ted Forstmann and his Campaign for America's Children to teach you how we can give every child a quality education, put parents in charge, force schools to compete and open a whole new world of education choices. There is already a powerful nonpartisan coalition to do just that, led by Forstmann and Joe Califano and embraced by Bill Bennett, Erskine Bowles, Floyd Flake, Bob Strauss and Martin Luther King III. Education opportunity through choice and freedom is the civil rights battle of the 21st century.

You should also work to end discretionary monetary policy at the Federal Reserve and and move onto a truly objective price rule based on an interest-sensitive basket of commodities. That will ensure integrity and stability of the dollar and end the currency instability that plagues many developing nations. A "Greenspan standard" might have worked for a time, but the New Economy will need something more reliable than one man's arbitrary power over King Dollar.

Our hopes and prayers go with you, knowing that you will be president of all the people, not just those who cast votes for you. Remember what is right economically is usually right morally. For all races, creeds and peoples, growth is good, equality of opportunity is moral and freedom is the key to our future.

Jack Kemp is co-director of Empower America and Distinguished Fellow of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

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