Like Aesop's wolf in sheep's clothing, the Democratic platform for 1980 uses familiar language to disguise an economic policy that corresponds on many points with traditional Republican nostrums.
The Democrats have taken this tack in a year the Republicans have also abandoned their historic concern with balanced federal budgets and spending restraints, and have come out for big tax cuts and more spending (mostly on defense) at the same time.
Though the Democratic platform contains ringing commitments to social welfare job creation and other old-fashioned Democratic favorites, the key economic planks call for continued spending restraint and put the attack on inflation ahead of all other economic goals.
Under pressure from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the White House has accented changes in the economic planks intended to restore traditional Democratic concerns, and the convention may yet impose an antirecession plank calling for new spending. But President Carter will still be able to run on a platform intended more to please the great middle-class majority than the poorest Americans who suffered most from unemployment and recession.
"Fiscal prudence is essential to avoid destroying the progress made to date in reducing the inflation rate," the Democrats' platform declares, and this is the heart of the matter.
The platform boasts that federal spending, when adjusted for inflation, has actually declined about half a percent a year during the Carter administration, compared to steady increases of about 3 percent annually during the Nixon-ford years.
"We support the discipline of attempting to live within the limits of our anticipated revenues," the platform declares. "Government must set the example of fiscal responsibility for all citizens who are helping in the fight against inflation."
Much of the economic section of the Democrats' 40,000-word platform is devoted to rhetorical efforts to explain the country's economic problems, many of which have become worse during the Carter years.The problem is summed up in the section's opening paragraph:
"While the past 3 1/2 years of Democratic leadership have been years of growth for our economy, we now find ourselves in a recession."
The platform blames inflation primarily on the increase in oil prices during the Carter administration. It does not mention that Carter removed price controls from oil.
The platform cites the Democrats' historic commitment "to policies that result in low interest rates," without discussing the administration's support of monetary policies that sent interest rates soaring to record levels this year.
One of the changes the White House accepted in the platform is a pledge that "the Democratic Party will not pursue a policy of high interest rates and unemployment as the means to fight inflation," without any reference to the apparent fact that this is the sort of policy the Carter administration pursued this year.
Another sign of the conservatism of the Democrats' platform is its failure to propose substantial new government programs in any major field. It endorses increased defense spending, but on domestic issues refers primarily to the continued -- and perhaps at some unspecified future time, intensified -- use of existing programs.
The Kennedy aspect of the platform to change this aspect of the platform in the debate Tuesday night on the platform. Kennedy himself will press the case for committing the party to a strong new antirecession package including $12 billion in new spending. But the Carter camp is confident that any such proposal calling for specific spending on that level can be defeated on the convention floor.
The platform boasts of substantial increases in many domestic programs aimed at poorer Americans for which funds have been appropriated during the Carter years.
The 1980 Republican platform endorses an across-the-board reduction in federal income taxes of 30 percent over three years. The Democrats' platform says, "We commit ourselves to targeted tax reductions designed to stimulate production and combat recession as soon as it appears that the tax reductions will not have a disproportionately inflationary effect."