The Democrats are staking their electoral fortunes on an effort to depict the Republican platform as "radical."
President Carter's strategists seem to have overlooked the possibility that Americans actually seek a "radical" vision of the future, in both precise meanings of the words. Radical means "departing from the usual or traditional." Departure from the usual and traditional makes sense when the usual and traditional policies result in double-digit inflation and chronic recession. Radical also means "relating to a root or origin." Most of us still believe in the principles of freedom and justice on which our country was founded. Older Americans remember when these principles were practiced with rather remarkable success. Younger Americans have witnessed what happens when we begin to neglect them.
In both of these senses, I believe, the Republican Party is indeed offering the beginnings of a "radical" vision for the 1980s.
For years, Republicans and Democrats have squabbled over the size of government. Democrats argued for more spending and Government, and Republicans argued for less spending and government. And no one, it seems, devoted much attention to economic growth. The two parties offered Americans a choice, in effect, between lower inflation with higher unemployment The inevitable outcome of this process has been reached under President Carter and the Democratic-controlled Congress: high inflation, high unemployment and chronic stagnation.
After a quarter-century as the minority party in Congress Republicans have learned that it's not enough to be against bigger government and big spenders, even if most American agree. To compete effectively for national leadership, a party had to offer a new vision and spell out its consequences for Americans and their families.
Walter Lippmann wrote in 1913: "It is perfectly true that that government is best which governs least. It is equally true that that government is best which provides most . . . Neither [truth] can be neglected in our attitude toward the state." Human freedom is not a state of nature. It must be hard won, and it can be maintained only by establishing enduring institutions.
The Founding Fathers did not believe that freedom and prosperity would automatically result from limiting the national government, or even that the behavior of free individuals would go unregulated. They believed that individuals would be guided by Judeo-Christian values, instilled by family and religion. They believed that state and local governments would enact laws to affect the consequences of certain individual behavior.
In economic matters, they believed the price mechanism, by accounting for everyone's tastes and means, would set costs and rewards to encourage people to act independency in ways that would maximize the general welfare. The Founding Fathers also believed in growth. Expanding opportunity would not only give people a chance to fulfill their individual potential; it would also give them a stake in the system, ties to the community and a respect for its laws.
The federal government had to provide the external and internal security without which there can be no freedom or prosperity. It would undertake additional duties approved by the people. But it had to finance its budget without obstructing the industry and thrift of the people with taxation, on the one hand, and without cheapening the nation's monetary standard and distorting the price system, on the other.
The Republican Party's "radical" idea is that this vision of society can still work, that it is as progressive and forward-looking at the beginning of the 1980s as at any time in our history.
The most striking feature of the Democratic Party's view of society, in contrast, is its insistence that nearly every aspect of American life be allocated, subsidized, taxed, regulated or adjudicated by the federal government. But the obvious failure of this vision is only half the story of the failure of Democratic Party leadership. Under the Democrats, the federal government has seriously neglected those duties it ought to perform.
Taxation so discourages initiative that the government chronically fails to raise enough revenue to balance its budget. To finance ambitious spending programs -- many prompted by economic stagnation -- the government prints and spends money it has neither taxed nor borrowed. While cheapening the dollar, our monetary standard, Democratic Party government imposes controls that subject the price mechanism to narrow private interests instead of the public good. And the government has failed to maintain an adequate defense.
The Republican Party is committed to full employment without inflation. It rejects unemployment as the answer to inflation and inflation as to the answer to unemployment. It proposes across-the-board tax and regulatory reform to restore individual and business incentives for economic growth and opportunity. It proposes tax incentives and job training to revive the country's depressed areas. It proposes to pay for the government expenditures necessary to meet for foreign and domestic challenges through a long-term expansion of the tax base. In a climate of economic growth, we can spend less on programs to alleviate the symptoms of contraction. And the Republican Party proposes to stop cheapening the dollar, to finance the federal budget or for any other reason. We would restore a monetary policy whose sole aim is to maintain a dollar of constant purchasing power. Under such policies, our families, neighborhoods and cities can flourish.
In embracing these ideas, Republicans have changed their behavior as a political party. It's not enough, we decided, to have strategy to win elections, which can be done by luring just enough voters to piece together a coalition of 50 percent plus one, while writing off the rest. A party that plans to be the governing party must have an agenda that addresses the needs of all Americans -- even those who may not vote for your party.
Ronald reagan expressed this attitude in his Detroit acceptance speech, when he said, "We must all move ahead, but we are not goint to leave anyone behind." President Kennedy had the same idea: "A rising tide lifts all boats." Americans seem willing to accept either a "liberal" or a "conservative" president, as long as that president plans to be the president of all the people.
At the Democratic convention in New York, President Carter and his party had the opportunity to rethink the failure of the Democratic vision in practice and to devise new policies. Instead, they adopted the functional equivalent of The Emperor's New Clothes. The Democratic platform pledges to "continue to" reduce inflation and unemployment, to "continue to" restrain federal spending, to "continue to" pursue a credible foreign policy. In short, as President Carter's official spokesman, Jody Powell, has confessed, "Another term probably wouldn't be markedly different from the first."
At the same time, the administration's rhetoric has reached outlandish proportions. The Republican cut in personal income tax rates was first described as a $280 billion, then a $1 trillion, tax cut, President Carter is apparently unaware that even the lower of these figures implies that he would nearly quadruple income taxes during a second term in office. Sooner or later, the press and the public will be forced to discount the administration's inflated rhetoric in making political judgments, just as they must discount the administration's depreciated dollars in making economic judgments. d
Without a positive vision, without a credible critique of the Republicans, where will President Carter and the Democratic Party be on Nov. 4? Taking refuge behind the ghost of Franklin Roosevelt, presumably. It will do them about as much good as Republican appeals in 1932 to the memory of Abraham Lincoln.
This November, I believe, millions of Americans are going to surprise themselves by voting Republican.