What the other America thinks

With the hint of autumn at last in the air in many parts of the United States and the youngsters heading back to school, summer can be said to be over for all practical purposes. For most Americans, that means that summer vacations have ended or are being wrapped up.

But those vacations have once again reminded us of the vitality, enterprise, and fundamental goodwill of the American people.

Whatever the individual sojourns of Americans - traveling, for example, to San Francisco, Chicago, or New York, cities of often-gleaming urban sophistication; visiting the picturesque small towns of New England; or driving through stately, historic communities of the South - Americans return with a clear observation: There is another and larger United States out there that is far more challenging and complex than national news accounts or presidential political campaigns have yet identified. This larger American tapestry should be recognized. It should, of course, be appreciated for its very richness. But also it should impel the nation's political leadership to deal with the genuine issues facing the US, not the alleged ''problems'' left over from past election campaigns, or Madison Avenue themes manufactured to tell us all what the US is supposedly about these days.

Simply put, the nation's political leadership - its incumbents and challengers - need to do what millions of Americans have done this summer: hit the road. Get away from the staged media events - filtered, it might be noted, through the eyes of an increasingly smaller and smaller number of reporters allowed into press pools to cover campaigns - and genuinely get out into the neighborhoods and country lanes of the US. Were they to do so, the campaigners might find some surprises:

* The outward effects of the current economic recovery can be seen almost everywhere, in terms of new factories and shopping malls, new roads, new housing complexes. In fact, the evidence certainly underscores the latest findings of the National Association of Purchasing Agents that the economy modestly expanded in August. The campaigners would also find that in many instances the main challenges in most cities are not what are often portrayed in news accounts at all. Instead, they involve such matters as new subway and road systems; making local government more effective; finding ways to sell US products abroad at a time when the high dollar works against US exports.

* Talk to people on the street and another message comes through. Americans want to know whether economic growth will continue - and whether they will be included in that growth.

That a slowdown in the rate of economic recovery is now taking place seems clear, of course. That in itself is desirable, given the pell-mell growth of the earlier part of this year. What is more nagging is how the slower growth for the months ahead will translate in job rolls, personal income, and prices. By getting out into the countryside, the nation's political leaders could define far more clearly how they would go about guiding the US economy of the future. That means promoting high-tech. Saving older industrial jobs. Reducing budget deficits.

* Many Americans continue to be left outside the economic recovery. Surely, amid all the campaign talk, it needs to be remembered that the American dream of prosperity, growth, and equality of well-being must include all of its citizens.

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