Edward Kennedy was at a rolling boil about the "reign of budget terror":
"The administration's budget welcomes recession as a last, desperate restraint on inflation. At a time when millions more will lose their jobs, the budget rubs salt in their wounds by proposing to deny unemployment compensation for 900,000 of the long-term unemployed....It seeks to take from the mouths of two million children by cutbacks in the school lunch program. It seeks to slash public housing below the rock-bottom level of the Nixon years...."
Was that Kennedy speaking at the Democratic mini-convention in Philadelphia last weekend? Nope, it was Kennedy in the spring of 1980, denouncing the ol' budget terrorist, Jimmy Carter. At Philadelphia last week, Kennedy said:
"The President has claimed over and over that he inherited the recession when he took office. But no statistics prove that, and no economist believes it."
Oh my. Rereading Kennedy utterances is my favorite form of mental refreshment:
"America is sliding into the worst depression since the Great Depression." (May, 1980) "...the deepest recession since the Great Depression." (June, 1980) "...the real world of recession is wrecking our economy." (June, 1980) "Sixteen thousand lumber workers in Oregon have lost their livelihood to the Carter recession." (May, 1980) "When you have the rate of inflation at 15 percent and interest rates at 15 percent and growing unemployment at record levels, I think what you're seeing in this country is a crisis in our economy." (May, 1980)
His suggestion? On Aug. 25, 1980, he subscribed to a Joint Economic Committee call for business and personal tax cuts: "Economic policy must focus on the supply side of the economy...."
The statements Democrats adopted at Philadelphia were not intellectually scrupulous, but neither were they concerned with extreme positions and peripheral issues--a welcome departure from recent Democratic practice. They denounced Reagan as soft on the "national crime epidemic." Throwing caution to the wind, they expressed horror at deficits and promised "budgetary savings" and tax increases. Specifically, they said....well, nothing specific, but they were foursquare for "open debate" about everything. Their problem is that Reagan's iniquitous (they now say) tax cuts were passed by the Democratic-controlled House and were supported by about 80 percent of Democratic senators.
The Democrats called for arms reduction "consistent with the maintenance of overall parity" with the Soviet Union--the kind of language Democrats used to find grating. They did not, as Kennedy implied in his speech, flatly endorse his "freeze" proposal.
In Kennedy's speech, the paragraph preceding his exclamation "These are new ideas" reads as follows:
"(We must) free our economy from the tyranny of high interest rates. We must stop the heedless borrowing of tens of billions of dollars to pay for needless corporate mergers. We must stand against the modern royalists who monopolize our finances--and we must set aside essential credit to revive small business and family farms, and to redeem the American dream of owning a home."
New ideas? Even the invective is borrowed. ("Royalists" is FDR's epithet.) Capital allocation--"setting aside" money by making taxpayers subsidize some loans--is already a huge and costly government activity. And although no one is certain why interest rates are high, almost no one believes what Kennedy implies--that corporate mergers are to blame.
That Kennedy paragraph is an example of the muzziness that results when speechwriters sacrifice sense to melody. The word "heedless" is imprecise in this context, but rhymes with "needless," which also is inapposite. Evidentally rhyming is important to Kennedy's writers: They reached for the verb "redeem" because it rhymes with "dream."
Politicians speak constantly, and sometimes peculiarly. Sen. Lowell Weicker (R-Conn.): "It's vital to find out whether the American spirit remains bright or whether we accept a little tarnish to keep the boat from rocking." Gov. James R. Thompson (R-Ill.) on the 1980 New Hampshire primary: "It's a yo-yo situation. We've had the second inning of a 38-inning ball game. Reagan did very well, but it's still a horse race."
Kennedy overworks things that work once. At the 1980 Democratic convention, he concluded: "The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, the dream shall never die." In Philadelphia, there was another still-living dream ("Our dream still lives, and ERA shall never die.") and another four step formula: "...the dawn is near, our hearts are bright, our cause is right, and our day is coming again." If it is, Ted, please find another formula for your Inaugural Address.