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What He'll Need to Do

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Debate night in America. In a format designed to eliminate spontaneity and mistakes (so the leader in the polls can “win” by “not losing”), we watch perfectly dressed candidates present perfectly coached answers to perfectly predictable questions delivered by a “perfectly neutral” moderator.

Of course, if John McCain is elected, moderator Gwen Ifill’s book about Barack Obama (due to be released January 20) will sell about as well as the one covering the Patriots 19-0 “Historic Championship Season.” But no doubt she was as fair as she could be when she hosted the Oct. 2 vice presidential debate on.

Still, when the campaign is over and a new president elected next month, that man will have plenty of work to do.

Overseas, he needs to exert American leadership by winning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thanks to Gen. Petraeus and the surge, we’re well on our way to doing so.

Beyond that, though, he’ll need to dedicate the resources the military needs to protect us. Our Navy, for example, is the arm that allows a president to project power anywhere on the globe and keeps the sea lanes open. Yet our fleet is only half as large as it was 15 years ago.

We don’t have enough aircraft carriers, either. The Navy is making plans to drop down to just 10 carriers, when it ought to be building and launching more. After all, in the 1980s, the Navy said it needed 15 carriers to protect our national interests -- and the world has only gotten more dangerous since then.

By historical standards, American military spending is extremely low. The next president should demand Congress spend no less than 4 percent of GDP on defense over the next 10 years. That would mean adding roughly $400 billion to the defense budget each year of the new administration.

The next president also must press ahead with missile defense. Just this year, Poland and the Czech Republic agreed to host missile-defense facilities. But the next president needs to push for more research into boost phase interceptors, which can shoot down missiles when they’re just taking off, since they present an easier target when they’re moving slowly and burning hot.

On the domestic front, the next president will have no choice but to focus on entitlement reform. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says entitlement spending alone will push the federal budget deficit to $577 billion by the end of the next president’s first term, and $969 billion by 2018. Our country won’t be able to afford further inaction.

The next president could improve health care and reduce costs by experimenting with Medicare and Medicaid, providing individuals with tax credits so they could purchase health insurance in the private market. That would give them policies they would control and keep, even if they changed jobs or moved to another state. As for Social Security, the new president has to make it more like an IRA, by allowing people to direct a portion of their payroll taxes into investment funds they would own and control.

Of course, job one in the next administration will be dealing with the mess in the credit markets. The best way to do that would be encouraging entrepreneurship. Obama’s talking points aside, federal over-regulation and over-involvement in the credit and housing markets helped create today’s problems. Our next leader will need to move the country back toward free-market principles and away from federal control.

And finally, the next president will need to expand American energy supplies. That will involve more drilling, of course. More than 15 billion barrels of oil rest under the Outer Continental Shelf in American waters. We’ll need to exploit those resources to reduce our dependence on foreign suppliers and reduce prices at the pump.

We also should build more gasoline refineries, so a single hurricane doesn’t knock a huge part of our refining capacity offline. After a recent gasoline shortage in the Southeast, the president of the Georgia Association of Convenience Stores pointed out that “state government can’t make gas.” Neither can the federal government, but its policies have made it more difficult to make gasoline, and that needs to change.

Our next president will need to do more than mouth a good soundbite during a carefully scripted debate. There are no easy answers to what ails the United States, but there are answers. Conservative answers that will make the 21st century another American century.

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