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Partial Eclipse of Domestic Policy : Foreign successes blur domestic problems

Shaky economy. Deteriorating infrastructure. Political system with declining credibility.

The Soviet Union? Yes, but of course to a much less calamitous degree, the United States as well: It has major problems too.

That’s sometimes easy to forget, or at least to minimize, when you look at what’s happening elsewhere in the world. And it’s easy to lose sight of crucial domestic policy issues during the Bush Administration’s skillful conduct of foreign policy.

No doubt the hopeful foreign developments of these last two years--beginning with the dissolution of the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe and now the resizing of that empire even within the U.S.S.R.'s borders--help explain the partial eclipse of domestic economic and social issues. But at some point we are going to have to start debating--about what’s right and what’s wrong with America, and about what must be done here at home. These are the issues that, according to almost every poll, the public is most concerned about.

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And when would be a better time, or a more appropriate venue, for such a great national debate than the presidential campaign? Notwithstanding all the ludicrous sound-bite TV political commercials that mar presidential campaigns, this is when the nation is focused on the issues, when the political parties are trying their best to present a coherent vision. This is the moment when the issues can be joined, when major directional changes can be signaled by voters.

What’s worrisome is the possibility that a grand debate will not occur.

It takes at least two to tangle, and while the Republicans appear set with George Bush, no one knows what the Democrats will do. Sure, someone will show up. Though former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas is the only declared Democratic candidate so far--Sen. Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee recently choosing to pass, as it were, the cup of hemlock--a few others are sure to jump in. But the night is not young: By this time in the last presidential-election cycle, seven Democratic candidates were running.

Our concern is less with the fortunes of the Democratic Party than with the fortunes of the country. We want the Democrats to fight the good fight because it would be in the national interest. Get the issues discussed, force the Republicans to answer the hard questions, get alternative views into the open.

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Let’s not miss the potentially momentous chance America has once every four years to frame the great debate and move the nation forward.


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