The worrisome thing about the American political system is that most of us will troop off to the polls in November and cast our votes for the wrong reasons.
From now until election day we will be having a good look at the candidates and be judging them largely by whether they are, or seem in our individual unobjective eyes, to be pro-poor or pro-rich, pro-old or pro-young, pro-school prayer or anti-school prayer etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, ad infinitum.
We should be judging them by their competence to manage those financial and economic problems that are certain to reach a critical point during the next administration - if they hold off that long.
We all know about the federal deficit. It will run for this current year at somewhere between $150 billion and $200 billion. It will run up the federal debt during Ronald Reagan's four years in office above the amount of the federal debt piled up by all his predecessors from George Washington to John F. Kennedy. It will make this the most spendthrift administration in American history - by far.
There is a price for spending over income. Every debt has to be paid some time and in some fashion. The usual method used by governments is inflation, which becomes a surreptitious form of extra taxation.
Most of us are less aware of another kind of debt we are piling up. We are buying from foreign countries as never before, and paying for it by money we borrow from foreigners. The United States is accustomed to think of itself as a creditor country. All the world has been in the habit of borrowing from us. The amount of those debts is itself a worry.
But we may soon have a different worry. We are borrowing from others at a rate close to $10 billion a month, right now. This is not a matter of formal borrowing. The foreign money comes in the form of foreigners putting their money into dollars, or into dollar investments. In effect, they are lending us money because we pay such splendid interest rates. Right now they can get a better return on their capital by putting it over here than by keeping it at home.
Since they push their money on us, we are happy to spend it on their goods. We are having a binge in traveling to other places, buying their beautiful shoes or clothes, their food or automobiles. Mostly we are putting it into consumer goods. But what we are doing is buying their goods with the money they lend to us - at very high interest rates.
Another 10 years like this and we will find ourselves a debtor country - no longer the creditor country we have been for as long as we can remember.
And again, there is a price to be paid some day, in some fashion. When will the day of reckoning come for living on borrowed money, and in what form?
I am guessing that the day of reckoning will not come on November's election day. I am assuming that the Reagan administration will do everything in its power to fend off any such event until the polls close. It can not entirely control the coming event. It could happen before election day. But there is a certain momentum about an economic boom, which, in this case, has probably not spent itself yet.
But while it is merely a guess that the day of reckoning will wait after election day, it is not a guess that there will be a day of reckoning sometime thereafter, and a very unpleasant one it may be.
What we need in the White House over the coming four years is the best possible man to understand the economic and financial problems of the times and the wisdom and the political strength to take the necessary steps to cushion the changes that are coming and handle them wisely.
The first duty of the man in the White House is to protect and foster the lives and economic well-being of the American people. Whether he is more or less in favor of school prayer, or of women, or blacks, or Israel, than is his rival is a trivial matter in terms of the real problems facing the country.
Let us just hope that in that extraordinary way Americans go about picking presidents we happen, for the wrong reasons, to pick the better candidate.