Writing off the compassion vote

IF I could sneak into the strategy sessions of the Democratic Party leaders as they make plans for the campaign, I would strongly urge them to stop all this talk about the poor, the minorities, and the elderly. In other words, write off the compassion vote.

Few can doubt that the Democrats have done more for these groups than the Republicans, and the Democrats deserve credit for making this a more egalitarian society. But it would be a mistake to give the impression that the Democrats' goal in 1984 is more ''alms for the poor.''

Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal was not designed to create better charity programs. His aim was to get rid of the poor by transforming them into employed, self-sustaining, self-respecting workers. He fostered strong unions to improve the bargaining power of wage earners, public works to strengthen the economic base and provide useful jobs, and social security to enable people to finance their own retirement through payroll deductions.

Roosevelt knew that nobody wants a handout, least of all the unemployed. What the poor want is a fair chance to work their way out of poverty.

Right-wing columnists have managed to convince millions that all social programs are handouts to the disadvantaged. They hide the fact that the federal social programs - social security, medicare, and unemployment insurance - are not charity. These are paid for by contributions from the people who benefit from them.

If the Democrats want to win, they will have to key their campaign to the great majority who are now forced to bear a larger share of the tax burden because business and the wealthy are paying less as a result of the 1981 tax giveaways. These are the families earning $15,000 to $50,000 a year. They are the victims of Reaganomics, and they are not in a mood to worry about the poor.

What they want is what would also be most beneficial to the poor: full employment, decent wages, and no inflation. But the only way to get these things is to reform and raise taxes, cut military spending, balance the budget, and impose tight economic controls.

The positions taken by Walter Mondale and Gary Hart offer little hope for success in November. Neither candidate promises to reduce the defense budget significantly, revise the tax structure, balance the budget, nor reverse economic decline. Both accept the Reagan tax cuts of 1981 as an accomplished fact. Neither will explain that the main reason for today's disastrous deficits is yesterday's tax gifts to business and the wealthy.

In the moral climate of 1984, a party with its heart in the right place and its head in the sand will have poor prospects for regaining the White House. Even in the best of times, the compassion vote is small. This year it may be nonexistent.James J. Treires is a radio commentator and economic consultant.

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