TRANSPORTATION Secretary Elizabeth Dole has parked her Cabinet office limo for a whirlwind spousal role for her husband's presidential campaign. In coming months, she will have more opportunity than she might want to test the transportation system she presided over for the past 4 years. Whatever the pros and cons of her decision to leave the administration, they were hers to weigh. She acknowledges a double standard in public life, one that asks her to resign her post - the only woman now in the Reagan cabinet - to assist in the campaign of husband Robert Dole, Senate Republican leader. The irony is not alone that she steps aside while her husband stays in Congress, but that members of the administration like Vice-President George Bush can run for office while keeping their jobs. Add to this that the Transportation Department's business may be more crucial to the country's weal than whatever the office of vice-president is doing.
At the same time, Mrs. Dole is making an investment in the presidential gambit that could lead to a far more rewarding life for her and her husband, both personally and as a contribution to American political life. This raises another question, of how much influence a spouse and family should have in an officeholder's public decisions; this issue will be considered during the campaign. But the Doles are no ordinary couple, even by modern career-couple measures. Both are articulate, very bright, very experienced. She has Southern origins and a Harvard Law School degree: If Robert Dole wins the nomination in New Orleans next August, it will be partly because of a link she could help him forge between his Midwest and her Carolina background. On balance, politically, the Dole candidacy gains among traditionalists by her joining her husband's campaign; it loses little among those who want to see women play a more active role in public affairs. As a practical matter, her geniality helps offset her husband's more intense manner.
Back at the Transportation Department, things are not all that great anyway. Since the early firing of the air controllers for striking, under former transportation chief Drew Lewis, the Reagan administration has pretty much let change run its course in United States transportation matters. It watched as the airline industry became concentrated in a few carriers' hands, leading to the prospect of far higher fares. Air corridors are overcrowded, flights too routinely delayed, connections missed. The administration has had little interest in local transportation, in regional air and busing needs. While France and Japan race ahead with imaginative, high-speed trains, applying advances in superconductivity, the Reagan administration has failed to put forward a comprehensive transportation blueprint.
After two terms of transportation laissez faire, the American public is ready for a debate on transportation policy. The placing of new airports, the financing of rail development, require activist government leadership. US transportation requires a fresher look and longer view than the current administration has the time left to develop. Mrs. Dole conceivably can do more to meet this need by joining Mr. Dole and the others considering America's next agenda.