President-elect Obama's reported reading list includes histories of Lincoln and the Depression, as it should. He inherits so many vexing problems; his study list must be long. But I have two recommendations of books he may have read long ago, but should re-read now before he assumes office.

David Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest contains a profound lesson that should guide all new presidents. They all arrive in Washington with their loyal devotees, which makes sense. They should be guided by the folks who got them there. But all presidential problems perforce differ from those of their predecessors, so nothing they've studied fully prepares them for what they will encounter. Halberstam's book told how brilliant executive advisers, full of hubris, made catastrophic mistakes that doomed their presidents. New presidents, and their advisers, should re-read that book to assure they don’t make the same mistakes.

But the book President-elect Obama must read is probably in his children's library. It is the 200-year-old story The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Anderson. There, swindlers duped the emperor and his ministers who were afraid to speak out about the truth when others did not. They didn’t want to appear dumb, or out of step, or unfit for office. It took a straight-talking child to speak out and call attention to the fact that the emperor had no clothes.

Officials never want to be that kid. Yet forthrightness from his advisers MIGHT have kept LBJ out of the morass in Vietnam, Richard Nixon from the resignations of Watergate, Ronald Reagan from the excesses of Iran-Contra and W. out of Iraq. Presidential aides have a stake in their positions, their jobs and the good favor they have with their “boss.” The boss-in-chief needs someone whose only care is speaking the truth, before the embarrassment occurs.

Now that the president-elect has chosen his Cabinet, he should re-read Han Christian Anderson and find the child who will call out to him when he and his policies have no clothes.



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