In early September I decided to take a month's vacation on a double assumption; first, that there is no better time of year for roaming among ancient Roman ruins in southern France (something I have been wanting to do for 50 years), and second, that the American presidential campaign might get interesting by mid-October, but not before.
I am justified on both counts. For those who share my interest in Roman ruins , fall is the time, just after the tourists and schoolchildren have gone home; the air is crisp and the nights cooler. But one word of caution: I was not prepared for the extent to which France has been overwhelmed by affluence.
The lesson I learned is that larger French cities have been all but choked by the sheer numbers of motor vehicles of all kinds. Finding a parking place is a nightmare. Fortunately, most of the Roman ruins on my priority list were either in smaller cities (Orange and Arles) or in the open country (Pont du Gard).
And we were agreeably surprised to find ample provisions for car parking at several of the art museums that are now an additional major attraction in southern France. There is underground parking for the Chagal Museum at Cimiez and big lots for the Maeght Foundation, the Renoir house, and the Leger Museum near Vence. The Vasarely Museum outside Aix-en-Provence is also well fitted for cars.
Since most of our trip (we were six in a minibus) was based in smaller towns, we saw what we wanted to see under almost ideal conditions and weather. Needless to say rooms and food were excellent and at modest prices. Our main base was the Hotel Les Antiques at St. Remy; beautifully furnished, on its own park, and on the edge of a delightful small town. We headed for home the day of the Reagan-Mondale debate and arrived in time to hear the Ferraro-Bush debate. So we got back at the time those debates focused attention on the important issue in this campaign. That issue is whether you, the individual voter, want or do not want Ronald Reagan as your President for a second four years.
There has been talk about other matters and will be more. But the real issue is whether the man Ronald Reagan is to manage the next phase in the affairs of the United States. Mr. Reagan engineered a turn in the general direction of national economic policy. It had in fact started during the Carter administration. Deregulation of airlines and trucking was under way. Mr. Reagan pushed the process along. He gave it an important boost by his tax cuts, which sweetened the profits from successful enterprise.
This is now part of a worldwide trend away from government-managed or controlled enterprise back toward private enterprise. It is happening throughout Western Europe, where Margaret Thatcher is the bellwether of the movement. It is happening in mainland China. The government there first released private enterprise in the farm villages. It is now getting ready to do the same in light industry and urban enterprise.
The movement back to private enterprise is too general now and has already generated too much momentum to be halted or turned back. In economic affairs it is a counterrevolution so universal that it is even being felt in the Soviet Union. Those there who want deregulation even dare to present their views in public print.
The question, therefore, is not whether the new economic direction will change. It will not change, no matter who is the winner. The tide has set too strongly in favor of a revival of private enterprise. The question is whether the management of the trend during the next four years is to be in the hands of Mr. Reagan. That leads to the subordinate question as to whether his hands are up to the job.
For over three years we have watched him presiding gracefully over the change in national direction - under carefully controlled conditions. The first Mondale debate showed him for the first time in those three years under conditions his staff could not control. To many, the result was surprising. In effect, we saw him offstage. We had better all watch the second debate attentively to decide whether he is up to a second term.