What does John Anderson stand for besides a 50-cent gasoline tax? The voters were rapidly finding out as he distinguished himself among Republican candidates by talking precisely to the issues. Now that he is an independent candidate, the question of where he stands is threatened to be overshadowed by the question of how he is doing. The way for him to make his bold candidacy a plus for the country, win or lose, is not to succumb to the temptation to blur the issues but to continue to sharpen them in voters' minds by providing a clear alternative.
Such an approach would not only be in keeping with the position of candor he has staked out. It would also have a possible political advantage. The candidate's commitment of conscience would speak to the voter's commitment of conscience. If the voter were convinced that Anderson was the candidate most nearly representing the voter's own concept of presidential leadership, he could vote for him without the "realistic" calculations now being discussed: Would a vote for Anderson really be a vote for one of the major candidates by taking a vote from the other?
What is bothersome at the moment is that the Anderson campaign has had to become so preoccupied with the political mechanics of placing the candidate on the November ballot that issues get lost from the media coverage. To be sure, the accomplishing of this task is a test of a candidate. By obtaining more than twice as many signatures as necessary in Massachusetts and Michigan, the Anderson forces show they do not lack the kind of energy needed by an underdog.
But the outcome will depend on the product they have to offer the public. We know that Anderson was willing to support the Soviet grain embargo in Iowa, to support handgun registration before New Hampshire gun owners, to vote against the Chrysler bail-out though he has a Chrysler plant in his own congressional district. What else?
On foreign policy, Anderson holds out against resurgent hawkishness. He believes the United States went into Vietnam with worthy motives but regrets his vote for the Tonkin resolution and thus a war that he thinks should not have been fought. He favored the Panama Canal treaties. Now he takes the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan very seriously. He would have called a full-scale meeting of Western allies to deal with it in concert. He sees the US-Soviet situation as making SALT II more rather than less important. He questions whether the MX is a wise investment. He sees that a basic way to reduce American concern about a Soviet threat in the region is to reduce US reliance on imported oil.
As for Israel and Egypt, Anderson recently said he believes in the Camp David agreement, apparently more so than President Carter. He told a Jewish audience he was wrong ever to have proposed a constitutional amendment on the US as a Christian country -- and said he would pursue a pro-Israel policy, including moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem at the conclusion of the peacekeeping process.
Among domestic issues, Anderson is for the Equal Rights Amendment and other means toward social and economic justice. Opponents have seized on a letter he signed in favor of the "pro-choice" position on abortion, expressed with an uncharacteristic shrillness. He needs to clarify just what he means by halting the "further" expansion of nuclear power unless "adequate" safeguards are achieved.
On the economy, Anderson talks of having fairly orthodox Republican positions , while wanting a humanized approach to taking care of those in need. He would use tax policy extensively to achieve such goals as wage restraint and capital investment. He sees small business as creating more jobs than big business, and he would legislatively limit the major oil companies from absorbing unrelated smaller businesses. He promises vigorous antitrust action. Having opposed mandatory wage and price controls, he recently has said he would consider a temporary freeze if inflation remains very high. He has proposed various budget cuts and such measures as reduced cost-of-living boosts in government programs. He would give Congress a veto over new regulations by federal agencies. He would not jump on the tax-cut bandwagon.
Which brings us back to that 50-cent gas tax, which has been favored by many voices but promoted only by Anderson among the candidates. It is a kind of multiple play epitomizing his approach. As he sees it, the tax would provide the revenue for a 50 percent cut in social security payroll taxes, increase conservation of gasoline, reduce inflation, and, by cutting US dependence on foreign oil, address the threats to US security abroad.