It is clear that George Bush and Michael S. Dukakis are trying very hard to be good at campaign tactics, sound bites and “morning in America” images. It is also clear that they and their handlers feel no obligation to engage the American people--in the serious sense that real democracy demands. It would be refreshing if the two candidates put symbolic politics aside and begin to speak to the real issues confronting the country. A good time to start would be the presidential debate in Los Angeles on Thursday evening.
While the public cannot tell by listening to the two campaigns, this is an important, possibly watershed, election. The choices the next President makes on the deficit, the Supreme Court and America’s position in the international economy will reverberate for decades.
Fiscally, the deficit beast cannot be finessed or ignored--no matter how much Bush, Dukakis and the American public wish that it were the case. A society, like an individual family, cannot live beyond its means indefinitely. As a nation we are deep in the red and are going to pay for our collective irresponsibility--either by raising taxes or by being taxed indirectly in the form of a lower standard of living.
Domestically, because of the deficit, neither Dukakis nor Bush will be able to launch any major social programs but, because of the age of several Supreme Court justices, the next President may be able to influence social policy in the United States for years to come. The three oldest members of the court--William J. Brennan Jr. (82), Thurgood Marshall (80), and Harry A. Blackmun (79)--are also the most liberal. If Dukakis were to fill their positions the current rough balance of five conservative votes and four liberal ones would be maintained. But if Bush, under pressure from the right wing, were to fill their seats with three conservative judges the Supreme Court will swing sharply to the right.
Internationally, for more than 40 years the United States and the Soviet Union have dominated world politics. Now, bipolar, Cold War politics is fading. Japan, Europe and China are catching up with the two superpowers. As American workers are well aware, the newly industrialized countries--such as Korea, Taiwan, Mexico, Brazil--are important players in the world economy. Possibly, the most important task for the next President is to decide on a strategy that will allow America to adapt to the new international climate--in which the nation’s challenge is as much economic as it is military. U.S.-Soviet relations, while continuing to be very important, can no longer be America’s predominant concern.
Politically, the election is significant because a Republican victory would solidify their grip on the Presidency--the GOP has won the White House four of the last five elections. Democrats desperately want to regain the White House because the President defines the issues that occupy the Congress and the nation.
The Republican and Democratic nominees need to cut out the manufactured, pretested pabulum. With four weeks to go it is time to give the voters a reason to vote.