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Memos to the President-Elect

Advice from 12 more BU experts on talking to the press, picking a cabinet, and choosing a dog

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Maureen A. O’Rourke, dean, School of Law
“Even with all of the nation’s issues, you have no more important challenge than to ‘preserve, protect, and defend’ the Constitution of the United States.”

The notion that upholding our system of government enshrined in the Constitution and the fundamental freedoms that define us as a nation is both a worthy goal and one that may require some sacrifice seems no longer to be a message that is easily embraced. Why would it? We are not only far removed from the Founding Fathers and the sacrifice of the generations that fought two World Wars, but we also receive a relentless stream of news about politicians and a system gone awry.

You will shortly promise to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Even with all of the nation’s issues, you have no more important challenge. I hope you find that this generation will respond to your leadership and that we, like others before us, will both recall and preserve the best of what it means to be an American.

Christopher Daly, associate professor of journalism, College of Communication
“Reporters are the eyes and ears of the American people.”

Suggestion: talk to reporters, early and often. Do not treat them as an “interest group” or a threat. They are the eyes and ears of the American people. Keep dealing with the news media even when you have grown sick of them.

 

John Carroll, assistant professor of mass communication, College of Communication
“Whenever you assume the role of Hoopster-in-Chief, go to your right as often as possible.”

Whenever Nicolas Sarkozy phones the White House, tell him you’ll call right back.

Whenever you assume the role of Hoopster-in-Chief, go to your right as often as possible.

Whenever you have a meeting with Representative Barney Frank (D-I’m Not Finished Yet), bring a magazine to read.

Whenever you get the chance, refer to Alabama as AlObama.

Whenever you finally get a dog for Malia and Sasha, do not name it Checkers.

Thomas J. Whalen, associate professor of social science, College of General Studies
“‘Team of rivals’ makes for a catchy political slogan, but its worth as a practical governing policy leaves much to be desired.”

Don’t become too enamored with this “team of rivals” approach you’ve recently articulated in the mass media. It is fitting and indeed proper that you should have access to a broad array of opinions in making important presidential decisions. But don’t allow yourself to be dragged into the petty bureaucratic turf wars that are bound to occur with such high-profile, politically ambitious appointees as Hillary Clinton in place.

If you don’t believe me, ask former Commander in Chief Jimmy Carter. In his truncated time in office, in the late 1970s, he took a similar tack when it came to the operation of our nation’s foreign policy. He placed ideological opposites Zbigniew Brzezinski and Cyrus Vance at the heads of National Security and State, respectively. Their subsequent squabbling and overall acrimonious behavior gave a schizophrenic quality to our foreign policy that left our friends and allies abroad to puzzle over our true intentions. The results, the invasion of Afghanistan, the Iranian hostage crisis, and the failure to achieve substantive nuclear arms control, speak for themselves. Don’t let history repeat itself.

The “team of rivals” makes for a catchy political slogan, but its worth as a practical governing policy leaves much to be desired.

Kevin Gallagher, assistant professor of international relations, College of Arts and Sciences
“Honoring and reevaluating our existing trade commitments will give us legitimacy at home and abroad.”

Keep your promise to retool U.S. trade policy so that it can bring real benefits to the United States and our trading partners. Three steps are needed toward this end:

First, honor the WTO ruling deeming U.S. subsidies for cotton illegal.

Second, honor the campaign pledge to evaluate impacts of NAFTA and other agreements.

Third, retool U.S. trade policy based on the assessment so that trade can begin to benefit the United States and the world without adversely affecting human rights and the environment.

Honoring and reevaluating our existing trade commitments will give us the legitimacy at home and abroad to revitalize the trading system toward a sustainable future.

N. Venkat Venkatraman, David J. McGrath, Jr., Professor of Management, School of Management
“Every American is touched by global trends even if she or he never leaves our shores. We need to create conversations within our communities about our role in this connected world.”

I hope that your first term will be marked by America regaining its preeminence with technology and innovation in energy, biotech, and information and communication technology. Hence:

1. Create a National Technology Council — parallel to the Economic and Security Councils — to develop a long-term coordinated focus on science-based innovations. Our recent efforts have been disjointed and piecemeal and our leadership position weakened, and the level of apathy towards science and technology among our youth is troubling.

2. Foster globalization at the citizen level. Although the Web has made us more connected, we do not have a good grasp of what it means to live, work, and play in this linked world. Every American is touched by global trends even if she or he never leaves our shores. We need to create conversations within our communities about our role in this connected world beyond value-laded labels such as offshoring jobs and trade barriers.

 

Thomas Nolan, associate professor of applied social sciences and criminal justice, Metropolitan College
“We have empowered law enforcement agents to isolate, target, and oppress populations of underclass youth.”

As president, you could prove instrumental in eliminating the war metaphor from our public justice discourse.

We have been, for too long, fighting wars on various domestic fronts that have empowered law enforcement agents to isolate, target, and oppress populations of underclass youth under the guise of military engagement: be they gang bangers, drug dealers, “impact players,” et al. You could give the imprimatur to devoting resources to providing, through education, the means to the hegira [flight to escape danger] from repression for youth who we’ve demonized as enemies — inspiring them to embrace virtue and justice as our progenies.

Jay Wexler, professor, School of Law
“Do not put a picture of a Christmas tree on the invitation to the White House Hanukkah reception.”

I humbly urge you to do only one thing, and that is this: absolutely do not, under any circumstances, whether it be purposefully or merely accidentally, follow the lead of the Bush White House and put a picture of a Christmas tree on the invitation to the White House Hanukkah reception.

 

Garland Waller (COM’80), assistant professor of film and television, College of Communication
“It is one of the secret shames of our judicial system that if a man beats his wife, abuses his children, and then seeks full custody of those children, he is statistically likely to get it.”

My greatest hope is that you will be able to use the power of your office to the aid of those families who have been torn apart by domestic violence and child abuse.

It is one of the secret shames of our judicial system that if a man beats his wife, abuses his children, and then seeks full custody of those children, he is statistically likely to get it. Please do not ignore this hidden national scandal.

Susan Akram, clinical professor, School of Law
“A thoughtful, long-term immigration policy must focus on the pillars of U.S. immigration that have been in place since the first immigration rules — economic needs, family unity, and urgent humanitarian concerns.”

One issue of great concern that will — or should — be on the top of your urgent to-do list is comprehensive immigration reform. Although there may not be much agreement on how to fix it, there is widespread consensus that the immigration “system” in the United States is badly broken. Billions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted on immigration enforcement that doesn’t work, criminalizes noncriminal acts, and diverts precious resources from legitimate criminal enforcement and other dire domestic needs.

There are now approximately 12 million undocumented persons living and working in the United States. Despite an increase in the annual Border Patrol budget of 332 percent since 1993, the numbers of undocumented keep climbing. Yet over 85 percent of the undocumented are working, paying taxes, and contributing to their communities. Employers continue to hire the undocumented for skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled labor needs that the domestic labor pool is currently unable to meet. The shrill rhetoric demanding enforcement and deportation is simply political jargon, not serious policy. The vast majority of undocumented immigration is attributable to people responding to the “pull” of labor needs, those reuniting with family members who are legally here, and those with legitimate claims to refugee, torture protection, or other urgent humanitarian status.

A thoughtful, long-term immigration policy must focus on the pillars of U.S. immigration that have been in place since the first immigration rules — economic needs, family unity, and urgent humanitarian concerns.

On the first pillar, immigration reform will require a realistic framework that both protects U.S. workers and provides a flexible temporary and permanent visa system that adequately responds to today’s U.S. labor needs. This means a complete overhaul of both the rules and processes for the issuance and regulation of the entire range of employment-based visas.

On the second pillar, immigration reform requires controlled but also realistic limits on family immigration. A visa system that does not allow huge numbers of U.S. citizens and permanent-resident families to bring their immediate families to live with them within a reasonable period of time will continue to be the main impetus for undocumented immigration. Moreover, there are approximately three million U.S. citizen children with at least one undocumented parent; a policy that threatens to deport these parents has serious negative effects on the children and the communities in which these families live.

On the third pillar, the United States must take its share of the world’s refugees and persons needing legitimate humanitarian protection. Currently, the United States hosts 1.8 percent of the world’s refugee population of 11.4 million persons (less than that if the larger population of 25.1 million persons in “refugee-like” situations is taken into account). This is an obligation that the United States shares through long-standing treaty commitment with all of the rest of the regions of the world; yet, today, the world’s poorest nations carry the disproportionate global refugee burden while the United States hosts the smallest share.

When these three pillars are adequately addressed, enforcement will be manageable and cost-effective. To be effective, immigration reform must be truly comprehensive.

Hyun-Yeul Lee, assistant professor of mass communication, College of Communication
“It could have just been history’s way of pointing to what’s to come for the people.”

In a not too distant future, you took a walk and sat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. As you heard whispers and saw shadows of movement, the steps revealed a sense of history reflecting your empathy, cause, and willingness. You noticed other footprints gather around you as you looked out into the Washington horizon. Could these traces have been children at play, inquisitive about the things you were looking out to? Could this have been one child dreaming about how the world can change from different vantage points? As you stepped away from the Memorial, you realized that it could have just been history’s way of pointing to what’s to come for the people.

Fred Bayles, associate professor of journalism, College of Communication
“Airedales have the soul of the devil. Besides, it’s doubtful they’d pass the security check.”

It seems presumptuous to offer advice on journalists to someone who has been inside the media swarm for as long as you. Still, situations change. You’ll be in a big White House with lots of people around to fend off those frenzied journalists. Your people will agree with everything you say, and they’ll get more upset than you when a writer mocks you for a slip of the tongue. Or when some TV reporter finds a contradiction between what you said today and what you said in 2004. Or when a columnist ridicules your sincerity, your family, your choice of dogs.

It will be tempting to stay in the bubble that is the presidency and ignore the media squawk outside the window. Try to avoid the cocoon. It didn’t work well for your predecessor, and now is not the time to lose contact with the big chaotic American family. So bite you lip and stay engaged. As annoying as the media may be, they still represent the American public that hangs on your words of reassurance.

Finally, some advice about the dog. Since you told Barbara Walters you want a “big rambunctious dog,” someone is bound to recommend an Airedale terrier. It’s a big, beautiful, energetic dog with a low allergy index. Ignore the advice. Airedales have the soul of the devil. Besides, it’s doubtful they’d pass the security check.

To read more advice to the new president from BU professors, click here.

2 Comments

2 Comments on Memos to the President-Elect

  • Anonymous on 01.20.2009 at 4:54 pm

    What happened to the voice of our natural science experts to guide the president on issues of research funding

  • Frank Brown on 03.31.2009 at 12:27 pm

    I agree with Chris Daly’s point regarding the importance of maintaining a "close" relationship with the media. This is the medium in which most citizens learn about the President and what he’s is trying to accomplish. The Bush administration used the media as a publicity tool, yet kept some of their most crucial policy decision behind doors (allowing experimental interrogation methods for example). If Obama continues to remain transparent with his intent and policies to the American public his popularity will remain high.

    Frank 

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