The Rabbi Writes: 1986

The Jewish Humanist, January 1986, Vol. XXIII, Number 6

1986. 

A new year. A new agenda for problem solving. Old issues unresolved. New issues waiting to take center stage. 

What will be the major issues of 1986 – for Americans, for the world at large, for Jews in particular?  

1.As Americans, we will be devoting our attention to the following issues.  

Tax reform. Reagan’s proposal to provide more equity and simplicity for the taxation system has encountered so much hostility from both the left and the right that it is doubtful that any reasonable facsimile of the original proposal will ever pass Congress. But Reagan is determined that some form of tax reform bill be passed, even if the Democratic House distorts it. The momentum of his fiscal “revolution” and the prestige of his administration rest on success in this campaign. 

Budget balancing. The rebellion of Reagan’s own Republican followers in the House of Representatives against the deficit removal plan designed by Democrats, but endorsed by the President, was a political surprise. Arbitrating the debate between the left-wingers who want to cut defense expenditures and right-wingers who want to cut welfare money is no easy task.  But even liberals now concede that a sound economy demands a balanced budget. So the battle will continue-with every vested interest willing to eliminate every government benefit except its own. 

Farm devastation. The plight of the American farmer remains in the spotlight. Despite the new farm credit relief bill, a substantial minority of our agricultural entrepreneurs face bankruptcy. Americans are trapped by ambivalence. Farm subsidies are unpopular because they interfere with a balanced budget. Allowing the farm population to shrink is equally unpopular because most Americans believe that the last reservoir of traditional American virtue lies in the family life of the rural population. Resolving the ambivalence will provide a lot of public agony. 

Crime. Prison overcrowding and the early release of dangerous criminals has captured the public attention. Nothing is so personal as the universal fear of assault that both urbanites and suburbanites live with. Renewed calls for capital punishment will not subside. They, most likely, will grow stronger. Feeding, housing, and rehabilitating a large criminal population is a fiscal and moral issue that confronts the alternative use of the same money for more productive purposes. 

Congressional election. The performance of last year’s do-nothing congress has highlighted the impasse which now exists in the two legislative assemblies. Chaotic individualism and the breakdown of the old party discipline has frustrated the leadership in both parties and rendered constitutional decision-making unpredictable. The fact that all the Representatives and one-third of the Senators will be running for re-election this year suggests that this year will be worse than last. Most legislators will not want to take sides on controversial issues. 

Reagan. Always superb handling the personal side of the presidency, Reagan has proved himself less than superb in his second administration in getting what he wants. Poorly formulated public policies, insensitive staff people, squabbling cabinet ministers, and Congressional rebels continue to frustrate his political ambitions and the political legacy he wants to bequeath to posterity. Reagan’s leadership effectiveness will be an important issue for 1986. Democrats will be eager to exploit his new weakness. 

 AIDS. No disease has captured public attention in a long time to the same degree that this African plague has done. The media are obsessed with providing information, both reliable and scandalous, about the pervasive dangers of contracting AIDS. The struggle between self-protection and compassion continues to make headlines. The victims of the disease, whether homosexuals, drug abusers, or children, have aroused more fear than sympathy. As the number of cases increases, the media will continue to focus on this public anxiety.  

2. As members of the world community, we will be devoting our attention to the following problems in 1986. 

Russia. Disarmament talks between America and Russia appear to have gloomy prospects in the light of the Reagan administration’s decision to proceed with the development of “Star Wars” technology. But there is such a broad International alliance of public opinion, even from conservative European circles, for something to be done that desperation will force the leaders of both countries to provide some hope. Gorbachev, in particular, since he invested his prestige in the summit conference and in the creation of some new form of detente, will not let the issue die. 

South Africa. The intransigence of the Afrikaner government is leading to civil war and martial law government. Provoked by black (sic) terror, the Afrikaners will become more adamant and English-speaking whites will begin their flight. The confirmation will continue to divide world opinion between those who are outraged by the injustice to Blacks and those who most fear the loss of South Africa to Marxist control. 

Chile. Only two military dictatorships survive in South America – Paraguay and Chile. The latter is, by far, the more important and the more volatile. Demonstrations against the dictatorship of General Pinochet are bound to increase and become more violent, especially as long as economic decline continues. World attention will be dealing with the prospects for the future. Will the left or the center return to power? 

Nicaragua.  The continuing American campaign to unseat the Sandinista government enjoys wide American support and very little world support.  The presence of a second Marxist government in the Americas is intolerable to most U.S. conservatives, who see the present regime in Nicaragua as a form of dangerous Soviet penetration of the security belt of our country.  Support for the contras will remain a controversial issue. 

Philippines.  The corruption of the Marcos government, the killing of his chief opponent, and the rising Communist insurgency make the forthcoming election an intriguing test of alternatives.  If Corazon Aquino is able to unseat Marcos, will she yield to pressure from anti-American forces in her own party to repudiate the American alliance?  If Marcos remains in power, will his victory incite civil war and lead to the growing success of the Communist rebels?  As a strategically important nation in Southeast Asia, the Philippines merits our concern. 

3. As members of the Jewish people, we will be dealing with the following anxieties in 1986. 

Pollard Case.  The unfortunate spy fiasco in which Israeli agents were caught paying an American Jew to procure military secrets from a military ally was a traumatic embarrassment for Israel and the Jews who support it.  Questions of dual loyalty and the patriotism of American Jews resurfaced.  The desirability of the Israeli alliance was challenged by angry politicians.  And the Israeli government was confronted with a major crisis.  Given the fact that Pollard will face a public trial, the Israeli “perfidy” will remain very much in the public eye, and enemies of Israel will take advantage of their new opportunity. 

Peace.  The attempts of the Israeli Labor government to establish some basis for peace negotiations with Jordan and other Arab states will continue.  Most likely, in order to strengthen his hand and to avoid handing over leadership control to YItshak Shamir, his political opponent, in accordance with the coalition agreement, Shimon Peres will call an early election.  If Labor wins, the prospects for some form of peace negotiations will be good.  If Labor loses, confrontation will return. 

As you can see, the problems of 1986-like the issues of 1985-are formidable.  But we have no choice but to deal with them.