Washington — We are on the eve of Decision 1980. Even at this late date vastly more Americans remain undecided how they are going to vote than in any presidential election in long memory. Perhaps they won't decide until they enter the voting booths. If they fail to vote they will still have made a decision -- a decision to leave the choice of the next president to others.
I am not assuming to advise anyone whom they should support, but perhaps I can raise some questions which need to be pondered -- and answered -- in determining whether it should be foure more years for Jimmy Carter or four first years for Ronald Reagan.
I feel sure on one thing -- what the basis of choice should not be. The choice is not between a President who brought about the collapse of the economy all by himself and a challenger whose election would bring on World War III.
It is inaccurate and unfair to hold Mr. Carter almost solely to blame for the high inflation and higher interest rates and rises in unemployment. His administration has plenty of responsibility, but some of the causes were worldwide factors which were beyond his control.
It is inaccurate and unfair to say -- as the President implied and then denied -- that Mr. Reagan would recklessly lead the nation into another world war.
It is as important to clear away the false issues as it is to focus on the valid ones.
Here is a valid questions bearing on the personal qualifications of the two candidates. Is there evidence that Mr. Carter has learned enough by trial and error during his first four years to conclude that he would be a significantly better president if re-elected?
Would it be prudent to discard his period of training-on-the-job to replace him with a president with less training?
Does Mr. Reagan's lack of experience in the conduct of foreign policy tend to disqualify him?
Has Mr. Carter learned from experience or would it be likely that he would use his training to make the same mistakes more carefully?
Since foreign policy decisions are collective government judgments, wouldn't the probable Reagan advisers prove as competent as Carter's?
Does Reagan's experience as governor of the most populous state in the union match or even exceed Carter's experience as governor of Georgia when he persuaded the country that he could be trusted with the presidency?
Consider another area of policy. Both candidates advocate strengthening our security forces, Carter marginally and Reagan more substantially.
Do you think that the President is proposing to do enough to redress the imbalance with the Soviets who, most agree, have been outbuilding us for a decade and more?
Do you think that Reagan is imprudently pushing the Russians into an arms race -- or are we already in it with Moscow still moving ahead and the US lagging behind, especially in conventional forces?
Another question: Will Reagan's call for bringing America's defenses equal in strength to the Soviets' -- or even ahead -- risk war or improve the prospects of keeping the peace? It is an objective fact that it was superior US strength which enabled President Kennedy to turn back Russia's move to deploy nuclear-warhead missiles in Cuba capable of reaching 2,000 miles into the United States. On that test of will, negotiating from strength brought peace, not war.
At this point Mr. Carter offers the country more experience in governing, though when he ran in 1976 he offered less experience than Reagan does now. A pertinent question is whether that experience offers the prospect of better performance.
It seems to me that the central concerns of the American people are the health of the economy vividly affected by continuing and intolerable inflation, and the declining influence of the US with both allies and adversaries. The election of either man will not in itself dissolve the perils of the 1980s. But the choice will be significant.
At the bottom line, Jimmy carter obviously possesses fuller governing experience, but his record of performance, as tested in the polls, is found by many voters to have been flawed at many points. Ronald Reagan offers the country less experience, but is the value of a new beginning overrriding?
I am not assuming to give the answers, but these are some of the questions for individual voters to ponder in deciding how they will vote.