The Jewish Humanist, November 1982, Vol. XX, Number 4
November is a month when we think about politicians and the way they should behave. It is a time when we focus on the role of government in our lives.
Government is an indispensable part of our existence. When it makes demands on us and takes our money we hate it. When it gives us what we want we love it. For most citizens the ambivalence will never be resolved. Even the most charismatic politician will be both admired and resented.
No matter who is elected to public office-Democrat or Republican-he will have to confront certain realities. There are certain facts that transcend the partisan struggle and become the setting for any government program.
What are these realities?
People distrust the government now more than ever before. There is a deep disillusionment among all Americans about what the government can do for them. Political activity has declined. Established parties have difficulty recruiting workers. The public attitude features more resentment than admiration. Even in a time of deep recession the old radical movement cannot mobilize people for programs of massive government intervention. Ronald Reagan touches a strong popular sentiment when he speaks of shrinking the government.
What cures inflation increases unemployment. The economic strategy of the Government and the Federal Reserve Board over the past few years, has been an assault on the problem of inflation. High interest rates and the attempt to reduce public welfare have been partially successful in checking inflation. But they have also resulted in the worst unemployment record since the Great Depression. If we wish to reduce unemployment, we will have to risk more inflation. There is no present single cure for both.
Tax cuts do not work. The tax cuts of supply side economics are not working. Government revenues are declining and government deficits are ballooning. Military and welfare costs are rising. Promised private investment in job-producing enterprises has not been forthcoming. If the public debt continues to grow massively, interest rates will go up fast as the government borrows most of the available money. We cannot have our cake and eat it. We have to pay for what we buy.
We have to choose between welfare and jobs. The strained resources of the government, on all levels, cannot meet both the welfare demands of an aging society and the necessity to create new jobs and to provide job training;. Right now, if the government has to make choices, it should invest its money in training young people for professions of the future and not in improved maintenance of the elderly. Futuristic education is the key to our survival and to the preservation of our standard of living Old industries will move to the parts of the world where labor is cheap. Innovative industries will be able to sustain an expensive workforce.
Government planning and initiative are required. Private enterprise has always needed government help. It still does. The public authorities have to direct the use of available money. It has to make sure that it is not gobbled up in useless corporate mergers. It has to assign it to innovative job-producing businesses that will be able to compete on the markets of the future. Passive withdrawal from intervention is to court disaster. If we do not tamper with the marketplace, others will. We need a long-run plan for the investment of our resources.
Abortion and school prayer are diversions from the real issues. Since the economic problems often appear unsolvable, it is tempting for politicians to divert public attention from the real issues and to play the role of moral crusader. The danger is that in the attempt to hide from the economic dilemmas, the guarantees of civil liberties and a secular state, which are part of our constitutional heritage, will be sacrificed for short run political advantage. The dignity and integrity of all politicians are going to be sorely tested in the near future.
Nuclear arms control is an important new movement on the political scene. The campaign against the creation and use of nuclear weapons is a new popular movement which crosses conventional partisan ones and which will not quickly go away. It is the successor to the environmental passion of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. It is an expression of continued public resentment of the military authorities, who lost so much credibility during the Vietnam war. The entry of a traditional conserative institution, like the Roman Catholic Church, into the fray makes the campaign more than another extracurricular activity of peripheral liberals and radicals.
Peace and the economy go together. Economic recovery is not possible unless government expenditures are cut and government deficits shrink. Military expenses are one of the major reasons for the out-of-control budget. Even if we reduce welfare money to a bare minimum it is still too much. Many conservatives are caught in a bind. They want both a strong economy and the Cold War. But economic recovery will take place only if we trim the military budget.
Negotiating arms reductions with the Soviet Union is not distinct from our economic program. It is part and parcel of our economic strategy. Neither Russia nor America can afford the arms race.
Ethics and women are important constituencies. Playing to a white male Angle-Saxon audience is no longer a winning political style. There are too many aroused women, non-whites and non-Anglsaxons to play that game. Government leaders can no longer patronize the ‘outsiders’. There are too many of them.
Most Americans are in the Center. What makes our democratic system work is that our citizens are not polarized into the Right and the Left. Most of us are in the Center-favoring a marriage of free enterprise with mild government intervention-preferring individual freedom to religious dogmatism-choosing negotiation to belligerence. Moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats are in the end, the most successful politicians. That it is sometimes hard to tell the difference is a good sign.
These ten realities are the unavoidable facts our new elected Congressmen and legislators will have to deal.