Edward M. Kennedy brought his presidential campaign today to a stunning symbol of the impending recession -- Ford Motor Co.'s giant Mahwah Assembly Plant -- and flayed President Carter for fighting inflation with policies that put people out of work.
Standing outside the plant in the bright spring sun with about 1,500 Ford workers, every one of whom will be laid off by next month, Kennedy said Carter "sees the economy with 20-20 vision -- 20 percent inflation and 20 percent interest rates."
"I start our New Jersey campaign here in this parking lot with all of the workers," Kennedy shouted, "because there could be no clearer example of the bankrupt, failed and flawed economic policies of the Jimmy Carter administration."
Today, the plant looked like nothing more than a picture book example of America's wealth and industrial might. The acres of parking lot around the sprawling red brick-and-gray steel complex glistened with chrome from the late model cars of the 3,700 people working full shifts here on final assembly of mid-sized Ford Fairmonts and Mercury Zephyrs.
But on June 20, the picture will drastically change. Ford will stop all work at the 25-year-old plant because rising gas prices and record hight interest rates have made it nearly impossible to sell the cars Mahawah makes.
Kennedy invoked the image of this hugh industrial facility standing idle as a portrait of what he sees as wrong in Carter's effort to tighten the economy as a means of combating inflation.
The administration's economic report in January said Carter's anti-inflation policies would boost the unemployment rate from 6 percent to 7.2 percent by the end of 1980. Most economists now expect a considerably high unemployment rate by the end of this year.
Kennedy says the government should impose controls to stop wage and price increases temporarily and then invoke various tax incentives and export promotion programs to try to restore price stability over the long run.
He says this can be done without a significant reduction in economic activity. Carter calls Kennedy's proposed solution "simplistic."
In addition to his specific complaints today about Carter's economic policies, Kennedy tied the plight of the Ford workers here to one of the general principles underlying his campaign: his contention that the nation's problems can be solved through effective leadership.
"We've heard it said, my friends," Kennedy said, "that inflation is here and no president could make a difference. . . Jimmy Carter wrings his hands and says there is nothing that anybody can do. . . I'll tell you, with your help and assistance, I'll show you the difference a president can make."
Kennedy's five-hour New Jersey trip today marked the start of what is expected to be a fairly intensive campaign here, one of the eight states that will hold Democratic primaries on June 3.