Democrats offered their view of the State of the Union last night in a slick, made-for-television production that was heavy on alternatives and proposals and relatively lean on the sort of attacks that are the traditional opposition party fare.
"We can criticize the Republicans," said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.). "We think, frankly though, it's time we put up or shut up."
For half an hour, over the three major networks plus cable news, public television and a satellite hookup to stations on the labor news network, the Democrats put up a series of proposals, some new, many carryover ideas from last year.
The Republicans, not to be outdone, also planned to use a satellite to beam their hour-long response to 4,000 stations. The GOP's cast of Cabinet officers and congressional leaders found their president's policies much to their liking.
Among the proposals an all-star cast of Democrats offered last night:
* The Fair Tax. A progressive tax reform proposal introduced by Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey and Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri, which would simplify tax laws, eliminate many deductions and lower tax rates.
* The Pay-As-You-Go Budget. A bill that would allow no program to be enacted until revenues to pay for it have been identified.
* The Byrd-Wright Interest Rate Bill. A proposal by Senate Minority Leader Robert C. Byrd (W-Va.) and House Majority Leader James C. Wright Jr. (Tex.) that would direct the Federal Reserve Board to act so that interest rates are lowered automatically in relation to inflation.
* Increased Research and Development. A new commitment that at least 3 percent of the gross national product will be devoted to research and development.
* Creation of an Economic Cooperative Council. A government and business council to help small farmers find new markets for their goods.
Creation of a National Investment Corp. An idea, in the words of Byrd, "that worked to bring this country out of the Depression can also help to find and provide the capital funds for revitalization and modernization of our basic industries."
* The American Defense Education Act. A plan to improve teacher training and to emphasize mathematics, science, engineering and computer education.
* Energy self-sufficiency. A proposed goal that would have the United States export more energy than it imports by the year 2000.
* Rebuilding America. The repair of roads, rails and other elements of the nation's commerical transportation network.
Last year's Democratic response was an effort to accentuate the negative, with people-in-the-street interviews in which citizens gave their views on how bad the economy was getting.
This year there were a few such snippets, but the emphasis was on a fast-paced parade of Democratic officeholders, each presenting an abbreviated proposal.
Among the missing this year were all the Democrats who are running or are thinking about running for president, an effort to keep intra-party politics out of this political show, and Jimmy Carter, the only living Democrat who ever entertained such a notion and won.
Also missing was another glittering partisan. Until last week, the Democrats tentatively had planned to have movie star Warren Beatty serve as narrator for their half-hour television extravaganza.
But party leaders concluded that Beatty, while an active party operative and effective fund-raiser, might not be the best possible communicator of the party's alternatives to Reagan's policies. So they settled on a Washington lawyer who has no presidential ambitions, Harry McPherson, who had served in the Johnson White House, and signed him for the role.
"I don't think this country needs another political speech tonight," McPherson said in introducing the show. "It needs ideas."
The Democrats were not loathe to attack Reagan's policies, but they did most of their punching with a velvet glove.
Not until the show was two-thirds over was a Democrat heard to say: "Social Security." The words came from House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (Mass.), who remarked, "Tonight, we're not going to dwell on Social Security. The difference between the Democrats and the Republicans on that issue is clear to all of you. That I'm sure."