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The Voters Deserve More

December 01, 1987

Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois has had the audacity to say that he would spend more money on some programs if elected President. Simon thus violated conventional political wisdom and, as a result, is being pummeled by his Democratic opponents.

The conventional wisdom is that a candidate dare not talk in specifics about social or fiscal programs because they will be picked apart and found wanting. After all, did not George McGovern lose the presidency because of his guaranteed-income plan, and Walter Mondale because he said that he would raise taxes?

Simon dared to support higher spending for jobs, education and medical programs, and promised to balance the budget in three years--all in the same breath. Aha, his critics cried, voodoo economics all over again. Indeed, there are major questions about Simon's proposals. But at least the senator should be commended for raising the issues. So, too, should former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt for proposing a 5% national consumption tax and increased taxation of Social Security benefits. And Jesse Jackson for suggesting that the wealthy and corporations are not being taxed enough. These proposals are politically controversial, but certainly worthy of debate.

In fact, the dozen Democratic and Republican candidates for President have barely scratched the surface of the economic troubles facing the nation, let alone explored some realistic solutions. World markets are lamenting the lack of American leadership. No miracle can change that right now, with President Reagan and Democrats in Congress deadlocked on most issues. But the nation deserves some promise of invigorated leadership and innovative ideas after the 1988 election.

The Republican candidates mostly hold up the Reagan record and chime, "Me, too." The Democrats are not doing much more. As one consultant told Fortune magazine: "The Democrats have been so intimidated by seven years of Reagan's success that they've become evasive and fumbling about economic issues." The very least that the voters deserve is an intelligent discussion and analysis of the nation's economic problems. They are profound, but not terribly mysterious--as anyone could discover by reading William Greider's excellent series on monetary policy in the New Yorker magazine or John Kenneth Galbraith's new book, "Economics in Perspective."

The election campaign is the proper forum for debating, first, the enormous cost of the Reagan "success" and, then, the construction of a sound new economic program for the 1990s and beyond.

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