Debate Over Shared Sacrifice Takes Shape
RESPONSIBILITY. Sacrifice. Contribution. President Clinton invokes all of these virtues in his ongoing campaign to rally support for his economic plan.Skip to next paragraph
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He implores individuals, interest groups, and corporations across the country to assess his tax and spending program in its totality, and not to simply consider "what's in it for me."
The president calls for investments in all of society's future, by targeting America's children and struggling families, its under-educated and its inadequately trained work force.
But Mr. Clinton's pitch has spurred many taxpayers to examine just how his proposals will affect their own economic lot. And it has provoked debates throughout the United States over what constitutes a community, and who is obligated to support it.
"There are two kinds of pluralism," writes social thinker Amitai Etzioni in his upcoming book "The Spirit of Community."
* One, he describes as "unbounded ... each group is out to gain all it can, with little concern for the shared needs of the community."
* Then there is "pluralism within unity," he says, in which "groups vie with one another yet voluntarily limit themselves when they impinge on common interests."
Public opinion surveys reflect that duality, with strong endorsements for the Clinton plan, and signs - from over-the-fence discussions to powerful lobbying groups nationwide - of many pockets of dissent.
A recent poll conducted by the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press surveyed personal views and the tenor of discussions about Clinton's plan among friends and neighbors.
It also sampled the public sentiment based on the gender, race, age, income, region, party affiliation, and 1992 presidential voting record of each respondent.
Clinton continues to enjoy a "substantial majority" of public support," the poll found, and "most Americans [are] seemingly willing to wait for a personal payoff from the Clinton plan."
But it detected that "an uneasy and critical tone dominates" the discussion of the plan "among a remarkably high proportion of the public," and that "these grass-roots deliberations can nonetheless erode the support for the Clinton program over time among key groups..."
Mr. Etzioni says Clinton's greatest challenge is to move American pluralism away from the "unbounded kind" that puts stress on government efforts to work in the common interest.
The president's success, he says, hinges on how effectively the White House can resist the tug of special interests in its effort to stimulate the economy and slash the federal deficit.
The political debate over how sacrifice is to be shared is already taking shape along financial, generational, regional, and political fault lines.
Income: Labor Secretary Robert Reich, a principal architect of the administration's economic plan, wrote in "The Work of Nations" that communities are "composed only of citizens with incomes close to their own."
One of Clinton's chief goals is to redress the growing disparities in income by directing more federal spending and tax relief to lower income groups, and adding burdens to taxpayers on the higher end.
Joel Kotkin, author of "Tribes: How Race, Religion and Identity Determine Success in the New Global Economy," says Clinton's plan is based on false premises.
"A big problem is the definition of the middle class," he says. Many taxpayers who fall under Clinton's definition of rich - those earning incomes in the $100,000 range - actually have far lower incomes when their exorbitant housing costs, state and local taxes are taken into account, he says.
Other components of the administration's plan, including infrastructure projects that will award subsidies to large corporations and job training programs for those out of work, are also misplaced, Mr. Kotkin says.