Let us hope that when the election is over we shall hear some discussion of the two nations that will have affected it most, Japan and the Soviet Union.
Japanese victories in the car wars have made an incomparable contribution to the unemployment rate. A policy of fear and loathing toward the Soviet Union has occasioned a five-year defense budget of $1.6 trillion, with the consequence of huge deficits and cuts in social programs.
But you hear along the campaign trail no searching talk about what U.S. industrialists can learn from their erstwhile copycats in Tokyo. Nor do you hear Democrats questioning the dubious underlying premise of the arms buildup: that the Soviets are prepared to start a nuclear war. The Democrats are anxious not to be thought "soft on defense."
Obviously it is easier for candidates to curse the devils in Moscow and Tokyo.
Former vice president Walter F. Mondale has earned headlines and raised eyebrows on the Japanese question by advocating what sounds like protectionism, which is not like the liberal Democrat he is or the free trader he was. Mondale insists that he merely wants to get tough with the Japanese on restrictive import practices.
To give him credit, Mondale has also made sharp comments about the American businessman, who, unlike his Japanese counterpart, is engaged in the monumental frivolities of the corporate takeover. Mondale has called this game-playing "Mickey Mouse." "Billions of dollars flying all over and not one job gained," he told a labor audience recently. No Republican has said as much.
Some say it is the lingeringly medieval cast of Japanese society that makes its workers so docile and productive. But enlightened business management may be a factor.
Jim O'Connor, president of the 20,000-member United Auto Workers union at Caterpillar Tractor in Peoria, Ill., thinks so. Peoria bore the full brunt of Reagan's anti-Sovietism. "Cat" lost a $90 million contract for pipeline parts when the president decided to impose sanctions. A Japanese company snapped it up.
Says O'Connor, "The Japanese look beyond the next quarterly report, and the last thing they do is lay off their workers."
Politicians prefer to say that the Japanese government can subsidize business because it spends so little on defense, that its inhospitality to products of foreign manufacture explains its success.
Both parties are unwilling to criticize U.S. business. Democrats are courting corporate America. For Republicans, it is an article of faith, reinforced in many cases by huge donations from corporation political action committees, that American magnates can do no wrong.
Pointing out that the Japanese are doing something right would not go down well at the local American Legion hall.
It's no more popular to suggest that we might try to understand the Soviets instead of trying to outspend them on arms. W. Averell Harriman recently made a $10 million contribution to Columbia for the purpose of studying the Soviets.
The 91-year-old statesman says there is "much misinformation circulating in the United States, beginning with those in the highest authority of government." He thinks this ignorance is dangerous in a nuclear age.
Just three days earlier, the State Department convened a gathering of Soviet emigres and government officials to push the anti-Soviet "crusade" that Reagan proclaimed in a speech in London last June.
Lawrence F. Eagleburger, deputy secretary of state for political affairs, predicted that the Soviet press would call the secret huddle "provocative and a return to the bad old days of Cold War and confrontation." He need not have limited it to the Soviet press.
The Reagan administration seems to fear that we do not know how bad the Soviets are, although everything suggests that Americans are fully aware of their monstrous conduct at home and abroad. Reagan wants to make relations worse -- to what end, we do not know. He says the Soviets are on the verge of economic collapse. Secretary of State George P. Shultz suggests that they may be on the point of a revolution we are morally bound to support.
In Central America, paradoxically, we are morally bound to foil revolution. We support a government in El Salvador that refuses to try the killers of Americans. We certify murderers as making progress in human rights rather than run the risk of "Marxists" making progress.
But we hear nothing about these matters on the campaign trail. "Jobs, jobs, jobs is the only issue," we are told. But knowing more about the competition in industry and ideology certainly wouldn't hurt, and it's time somebody started talking about Japan and the Soviet Union in other terms than "getting tough."
It's too tough on us.