Rejuvenating the Presidency

Your thoughts on the State of the Union, midterm elections, and the military.

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After listening to President Obama's State of the Union speech and reading your commentary, I believe his focus must be on jobs (the economy) and education [Editor's Note, January 29]. People are reading and hearing how the economy is improving, yet we still have 10 percent unemployment. Main Street doesn't see any real improvement. Disposable income is negligible, and interest rates for savings are next to nothing. Retirees who have elected to take the early option for Social Security get punished three ways: taxed benefits, reduced benefits, and ­limits on any income earned above $14,160 for 2010 (or lose 50 percent of your Social Security benefit). Schools are suffering. Unfunded mandates like special education have played havoc on edu­cation ­budgets across the country. We talk about charter schools as a model to follow, but in my opinion, the unfunded mandates have financially destroyed educational budgets and negatively impacted our schools' ability to achieve.


Monroe Township, N.J. A shotgun works in the right venue. It does not work in politics and governance. Government needs to identify 10 national issues that have real importance to the country's citizens, not politicians. Perhaps we should create an apolitical survey or­ganization utilizing sample groups in all 50 states. A small bipartisan group appointed by the administration and Congress could pick the top three issues that are workable in Washington's political world. The president would then be responsible for guiding the issues through bipartisan cooperation. With success, a second phase of issues could be undertaken. If both sides continue finger-pointing and posturing, nothing will get done.


Kanarraville, Utah In the GOP rebuttal to the State of the Union speech, Virginia Gov. Bob McDon­nell identified only half the problem. Yes, the federal government is trying to do too much. But also, most of what it is doing is wrong. An associate pastor of mine once said: "When God tells you to go to New York and you head for L.A. instead, repentance is not stopping in New Mexico and living there. Repentance is booking a flight to New York." President Obama can build coali­tions to pass true stimulus, which must consist of broad tax cuts rather than massive government spending. He can reduce corporate taxes. He can sign trade agreements now pending and aggressively negotiate others. He can slash bloated spending, which has been even further bloated by the stimulus package. But alas, Obama's message is that he is bound for the Left Coast.


Bartlesville, Okla. I totally agree that President Obama and the federal government are trying to do too much. The most important job of the federal government right now is to reduce its size, limit the deficit, and create a realistic plan to pay off our mounting debt.


Maggie Valley, N.C. I believe President Obama has done a good job so far when you take into consideration how full his plate has been since he took office. He is trying very hard to be a good quarterback for "we the people." His big problem is the right side of his line in Congress (the Republicans) won't help him carry the ball for fear he will score a touchdown and any success will put him back in office. The left side of the line (Democrats) is worrying about who will get credit for it.


Lapeer, Mich.  Midterm Politics as Usual?

Historically, the majority party loses seats in midterm elections ["Healthcare Hopes Evaporate," January 22]. Unfortunately for America, there does not seem to be anybody left for whom to vote. Either party in power assumes arrogance toward the electorate while rewarding the party faithful and large donors and themselves with pork-barrel largess to ensure re-election, the only thing that appears to matter to each of them. The minority party becomes obstructionist to even good legislation. We pay these politicians 365 days a year basically for very little in the way of accomplishments that truly enhance our country or the lives of all its citizens. After midterm elections, we face another do-nothing Congress because most of them are incapable of looking past their own interests to work together for a common good.


Billings, Mont.  Military Medical Bureaucracy

I found your article about the severe shortage of military psychiatrists most interesting ["After Fort Hood, a Deeper Dilemma"]. I am a triple-board-certified [adult, child, and forensic] psychiatrist with more than 30 years of experience. I live on Oahu, Hawaii, home to several military bases. I am willing to contract for several hours a week, but the military wants only full-time psychiatrists. What's the greater need: more psychiatrists or bureaucratic rigidity? The Fort Hood dis­as­ter indicates the Army thinks it's the latter.


Kailua, Hawaii  No Promises to Keep

Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.S.S.R. Jack Matlock offers many astute observations in "How the Cold War Wasn't Won" [January 15]. On one important matter, however, Ambassador Matlock goes astray. He claims that "at the end of the Cold War, the U.S. made promises to Moscow not to extend NATO to the borders of the former U.S.S.R. But NATO went ahead and expanded anyway." In fact, no such "promises" were ever made. The English, German, and Russian records of the negotiations leading to German reunification have become available in recent years, and they show that NATO leaders never "made promises" not to expand the alliance beyond Germany. The U.S., West German, British, and French governments did make certain commitments in 1990 about NATO's role in eastern Germany, commitments that are all laid out in the Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect to Germany. But no Western leader ever "made promises" about NATO's role vis-à-vis the rest of the Warsaw Pact countries. Indeed, the issue never came up during the negotiations on German reunification, and Soviet leaders at the time never claimed that it did. Not until several years later, long after Germany had been reunified and the Soviet Union had dissolved, did former Soviet officials begin insisting that the United States had "made promises" in 1990 not to bring any of the former Warsaw Pact countries into NATO. Declassified materials show unmistakably that no such "promises" were ever made.


Director, Cold War Studies Program, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.