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What Not to Do: A President's Guide

President Jimmy Carter leaving Three Mile Island for Middletown, Pennsylvania April 1,1979.
National Archives
President Jimmy Carter leaving Three Mile Island for Middletown, Pennsylvania April 1,1979.

"The challenges, on a global scale, are considerable: A nuclear power disaster; concerns about anemic growth and inflation; Middle Eastern discord; oil supply worries."

When I wrote that, earlier today, the irony hadn't yet fully occurred to me—especially in the context of advice to a president.

If the plotline of this movie sounds familiar that's because it is. The original melodrama is set in 1979—the power plant is Three Mile Island, and the president is Jimmy Carter. And the precedent for a remake isn't a favorable one.

History—at very least—tells us what a president ought to avoid.

Namely, don't come across as being a nagging scold: That sort of condescending tone alienates everyone within earshot.

Take, for example, an excerpt from President Carter's script: "And I'm asking you for your good and for your nation's security to take no unnecessary trips, to use carpools or public transportation whenever you can, to park your car one extra day per week, to obey the speed limit, and to set your thermostats to save fuel."

When Americans are feeling apprehensive about the state of the world, they look to their president for leadership, confidence, and a plan—not a share of the blame in a mess they did not create. What they crave is hope for the future: Not just more of the same woe - only colder and slower.

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