The Reagan camp complains about waste and fraud in government. The Carter camp asks for specifics. The Reagan people say hey have a task force working on it. Too often the debate over how to make America run better gets little farther than this.
But the challenge is such that, whoever is elected, it will have to be forthrightly addressed. It is not simply a question of waste and fraud in Washington, costly and debilitating as these are, but of a sense all along the line in both the public and private sectors that nothing works as well as it should. Whether it is millions of cars being recalled for repairs, a letter taking days to be delivered in the next town, a repairman failing to do a task right -- things aren't what they used to be.
The indictment is overdrawn, of course. Many appliances once undreamed-of give long service. Many people behind the counters in government offices show speed, courtesy, and patience in making their part of the bureaucracy function. A whole new generation of craftsmen seems seized by pride and joy in workmanship.
The trick for presidential leadership will be to tap -- through policies, programs, and example -- the traditional American zeal to make things work, to do a job carefully, efficiently, and, yes, cheerfully. The role of government is not only to conduct its own operations in this tradition but to enhance rather than inhibit the climate for private citizens and organizations to do so.
One point of intersection lies in government regulation. Here both the public and private sectors can be made to run better through elimination of unnecessary regulations and scrupulous implementation of necessary ones. Candidates Carter, Reagan, and Anderson all appear sensitive to this need from what they say. And Carter has a presidential record of support for deregulation of transportation and reduction of regulatory paperwork, even though all the results are not yet in. The recent Reagan call for cost-benefit analyses of regulations is worth study with the proviso that safety not be sacrificed. anderson offers such specifics as the promising idea of involving relevant congressional personnel in the drafting of administration legis lative proposals.
A country will run better if the burdens -- and benefits -- of government are allocated fairly. Welfare reform is one example of this challenge. Working taxpayers need assurance that loopholes are being closed against welfare cheats. There may be something to learn from the Reagan approach in California -- "more for the needy, less for the greedy" -- though the possible efficiencies in the Republican proposal for eventual wholesale transfer of welfare functions to the states would have to be weighed against the question of whether equity for individuals requires some sort of national standards. All the candidates rightly want to see people who are able to work going to work instead of onto welfare -- and they see the first step is to ensure that jobs are available.
It is not only in social services, however, but at every point where tax money can be wasted or misused that there is an opportunity to remove unnecessary burdens from the taxpayer. The gamut runs from military procurement to all kinds of tax breaks. Such matters require regular review to be sure their purposes are sound and are being fulfilled.
The operation of the government itself has to be improved to give value for tax money received. the federal bureaucracy may have stayed about the same size for two decades (though with an immense increase in often expensive consultants) , but the state and local bureaucracy has mushroomed to meet residents' needs, carry out federal policies, and spend federal funds. The GOP support of federal revenue sharing with the states may be in keeping with its support of decentralized decisionmaking, but revenue sharing seriously undercuts the already blurred lines of accountability by relieving local spenders of money from the responsibility for raising it.
Better government operation is not only a challenge for presidential leadership, of course. It is also a job for Congress, whose legislation has contributed to haphazard and often unnecessary growth of Washington functions -- and of requirements on state and local governments. Indeed, one of Congress's own advisory groups has recently issued a report calling on the body to correct problems it has helped to cause.
But vigorous presidential leadership is needed to spur this process as well as take the required initiatives for change. consider how hard the White House had to work to obtain even the degree of governmental reorganization and civil service reform achieved during the present administration.
Which leaves us with the issue of how to bring effective leaders to the fore. the use of primary elections, which began as a reform of less participatory nominating procedures, has become a kind of Frankenstein's monster, laying waste the countryside for months beginning well before the first primary. The tailoring of campaigns to fit the media has fuzzed the lines between events and "media events." Television presence becomes a critetion for candidacy. The federal controls on election finances divert huge sums to new channels of expenditure.
Yet all this has taken place under democratic procedures, and any changes will have to take place under them. Presient Carter did try for some electoral revisions without much success. The next president ought to take a quick lead in this respect, before it all gets tangled up with the next election.
In the final analysis it is attitudes as much as anything else that will foster a well-run American up and down the line. The wanting to do things well, safely, efficiently, fairly -- as opposed to the compulsion to do so. a president can convey the right attitude or the wrong one.
Indeed, for a well-run American in the broadest sense, the qualities of presidential leadership have to be considered no less seriously than the content of the candidates' promises and programs. Among these qualities:
An ability to consider alternatives, negotiate, and persuade -- something detectable both in office and in building a campaign.
A talent for administration -- discernible in the choice of associates and the exercise and delegaton of authority.
A capacity to exemplify such national needs as integrity, candor, justice, compassion, nothing less than love for God and all humanity -- judgeable in a leader's every word and deed.
Which of today's candidates is likely to go beyond the daily rigors of office to kindle Americans with the vision to sustain and guide them in a time of change and challenge? To answer such questions, each voter might test the candidates against qualities of leadership like those mentioned above. Between now and the election the candidates just may be able to assist in the answers themselves.
Next: A moral America