An uninspired and sometimes cowardly leadership in Washington has led the United States onto a path of decline that both political parties seem powerless to resolve, a panel of national political journalists said Monday.
The panelists from the PBS television program "Washington Week in Review" said the leadership void has created a backlog of national problems in the areas of health care, education, drugs, the budget deficit, trade, international relations, transportation and the environment.
"There are people in Washington--serious people, knowledgeable people--who say that our leadership today in both the Republican and Democratic parties is just not up to the world's fast track," Paul Duke, senior Washington correspondent for PBS, said at the panel discussion held to benefit the Laguna Art Museum.
"A lot of us who report on the Capitol . . . feel that the political process is . . . almost paralyzed in a nonproductive state these days," he added.
Charles McDowell, political correspondent for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, attributed part of the problem to "unfunded rhetoric," referring to politicians who express concern about problems but fail to find the money to solve them.
The fear in both parties of suggesting a tax increase to pay for the problems "has made cowards out of our leaders in Washington," Duke charged.
Jack Nelson, Washington bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times, agreed that the leadership of both parties is in disarray.
Polls show that Bush is a popular president, but Nelson said that "his support is a mile wide and an inch deep." Nelson also called the Democrats "a pale imitation of an opposition party. . . . They're either charmed by Bush or they don't know what to make of him."
About 180 people attended the panel discussion, raising about $18,000 for the Laguna Beach museum, spokeswoman Nancy Coop said. The event was co-sponsored by The Times, KCET-TV in Los Angeles and the Four Seasons Hotel in Newport Beach, where the event was held.
On other issues:
* Nelson said that if Bush faces a tough reelection campaign in 1992, some Washington insiders believe that he will dump Vice President Dan Quayle and replace him on the ticket with Secretary of State James Baker.
* Contrary to speculation, Nelson also said it appears that Bush will not make a major announcement on his plans for oil drilling off the California coast when the President comes to the state later this week on a visit that includes a stop Friday in Orange County. Nelson said he was told to expect the announcement later in the spring or summer.